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Child Care and Economic Recovery: Legislative Watch

Remote learning and reduced, or no, in-person instruction can keep working parents off the job. A number of recent bills attempt to fill the child-care gap.

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Lorna Swan helps her son, Kaden Abdur-Rahman, 10, learn remotely in Chicago. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)
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Teachers have much higher aspirations for their classrooms than offering child care, but the pandemic has revealed how much working parents depend on schools to provide safe havens for their children. If kids can’t be in school every day, or at all, child care could offer a solution until public health restrictions are lifted.

Unfortunately, the child-care sector is problematic on all sides — a significant financial burden for low- and even middle-income workers and a profession that, on average, pays workers nearly 40 percent less than the median hourly wage. Tens of thousands of providers have closed as a result of the pandemic, and those that are beginning to reopen are seeing the impact of the economic downturn on enrollment, despite the increased need for their services.

Around 34 million working Americans have at least one child under the age of 14, and about 70 percent don’t have a caregiver in the family to support them if they go to work. Many have jobs that don’t include the option of remote work. 

A recent national survey found that more than 13 percent of working parents had either cut back hours or left jobs to fill child-care needs. It’s hard to imagine a vigorous recovery if parents are leaving work because they have to care for children attending school from home. 

In the last month, dozens of bills have been introduced by state legislatures around the country to help child-care providers stay in business and to support parents who need to stay on the job, or look for one. Here are a few examples:

A4716, a New Jersey bill, addresses the issue that the children of working parents are not likely to be physically present in schools for more than three or four hours a day, for only two or three days a week. For the 2020-2021 school year, it establishes new guidelines for the state’s subsidized child-care assistance program, increasing payments and revising hour limits for licensed child-care providers that enroll school-age children.

Minnesota SF8 asks the commissioner of Human Services to allocate up to $14.9 million for a temporary sliding fee child-care assistance program. The first priority would be families without a high school diploma who are not enrolled in the state's welfare reform program for low-income families with children, and who need child-care assistance in order to participate in training or education that would make them employable.

Vermont S0353 includes employers who have provided child-care services to essential workers among those eligible for grants from a Frontline Employees Hazard Pay Grant Program, and expanding the program to include more workers whose jobs involved elevated risks of exposure to COVID-19. It appropriates $19.5 million for the fund in fiscal year 2021.

HB2809 in Pennsylvania establishes a COVID-19 Childcare for Essential Workers Grant program, funded by CARES Act money received by the state. For purposes of the program, “essential workers” include those working in health care, food manufacturing or food, retail, janitorial services, transit and other industries not closed during the state’s health emergency. The program will end three months after the state’s disaster emergency is proclaimed to be over.

Illinois HB5834 amends the state’s income tax act to include a “remote learning education expense credit” in recognition of pandemic-related challenges in regard to school attendance and child care. It notes that it will be “costly and burdensome to the State” if parents leave their jobs because their children cannot attend school in person. In addition to child care, expenditures eligible for the credit include materials necessary for online learning, tutoring, homeschool instruction and other services.

S8990, a New York bill, would allow the Office of Children and Family Services to use CARES Act funds to make direct payments to child-care providers to cover additional hours during which these services are needed due to pandemic-related changes in school schedules. The bill hopes to incentivize providers to expand their existing programs or reopen programs that have been closed. This assistance would be intended help low- and middle-income parents stay on the job and contribute to the city’s economic recovery.



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Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at carl.smith@governing.com or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
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