Enough with Impossible Choices: Saving Child Care in COVID-19
With many schools across the country going virtual for the indefinite future, life has turned upside down for families. As two toddler moms working from home, we juggle snacks, naptime, and teatime with stuffed animals with our own endless Zoom meetings and overflowing inboxes. It’s easy to feel like you’re doing everything badly when you’re struggling to figure out how to do your full-time job in between trying to keep a curious and rambunctious toddler from climbing the dresser (again). But millions of families have it so much worse.
Essential workers like MomsRising member Kenya from Washington state face impossible choices. The proud single mom of two small children, ages 1 and 8, has struggled to find child care since the pandemic hit, forcing her to reduce her hours at the assisted living facility where she works. From nurses to home care workers to teachers, COVID-19 is showing us all that people who care for our loved ones are doing essential and often undervalued work. To rebuild our economy, we need to value care work.
Child care workers are the backbone of our national workforce. They enable the rest of the economy to function, while helping raise the next generation of healthy and happy humans. But amidst this pandemic, hundreds of small child care programs have started to close and many will never re-open. At the same time, schools are struggling to reopen safely, and millions more parents find themselves with no place for their children to go while they are at work. For low-wage workers in essential jobs that simply can’t be done from home, no child care means no way to earn a paycheck.
Keeping child care centers safely open and helping families afford care should be a central focus of any coronavirus relief package and a core strategy for reopening the economy once it’s safe to do so. The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and National Women’s Law Center estimate that at least $9.6 billion a month is needed during the crisis in order to prevent child care providers from shutting down permanently.
President Trump’s executive order is an empty promise. It guts social security with a payroll tax, and his attempt to extend unemployment is insufficient and potentially illegal. And crucially, it fails to address child care entirely.
Instead of wasting our time, we need the President and Republican leadership to return to the negotiating table and pass real relief quickly, not give us empty publicity stunts. Recently, the House passed two bills providing more than $60 billion in aid to stabilize child care and expand child care access. The Child Care is Essential Act allocates $50 billion to Child Care and Development Block Grants. The Child Care for Economic Recovery Act strengthens tax credits to help families afford child care, funds child care for essential workers, and invests in child care infrastructure. They are an important step towards averting a child care disaster.
There are four steps we must take now to give kids, families and care workers what we need:
First, we must support child care workers. Child care runs on very thin margins, and most workers are women of color (many who are mothers themselves) who live paycheck to paycheck. Most child care workers make less than $12 per hour. The National Association for the Education of Young Children found that 30% of child care providers could not survive a closure of more than two weeks, and 17% could not survive a closure of any period.
Second, all child care providers who need paid family and medical leave during this crisis and beyond should be able to access it, including those left out of past relief packages. Paid leave should be available to every provider and every other worker who needs it, no exceptions.
Third, child care providers who stay open must be supported so that they can do their jobs safely. Funds must be available to cover tuition and accommodate smaller class sizes, for health and safety training, substitute teachers, expanded hours, as well as masks, sanitizer, and other supplies to protect staff and the children in their care.
Fourth, parents who can’t work from home must have access to free or affordable child care while their children are out of school. Many of our frontline workers––including nursing assistants, patient care techs, grocery store clerks and cashiers––earn between $7.25 and $14 dollars per hour. It is unthinkable to ask these families to shoulder the cost of child care while they sustain us all through this pandemic.
It’s past time we demand an economy that works for all of us instead of leaving families to struggle with impossible choices alone. After all, as Ai-Jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, has often said, care work is the work that makes all other work possible.
Jessica Juarez is the communications director of the Progressive Caucus Action Fund and the proud mom of two children. She previously served as the interim policy director for People’s Action and the citizenship program manager at OneAmerica. Jessica is also on the advisory board of the Political Healers Project. She is a long-time community organizer, strategist and story-teller.
Nina Perez is the National Campaign Director for Early Learning with MomsRising/ MamásConPoder. Nina's career had focused on ending the oppression and exploitation of women and girls. She was previously a Program Manager at Community Family Life Services and a founding member and Program Coordinator for the Young Women Leaders Program at the University of Central Florida. Nina is also on the advisory panel board of MissHeard, a teen girl empowerment magazine and lives in Maryland with her loving partner, persistent toddler, and spunky cat.