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Maxine Clark: Washington must act to protect child care and protect children

Maxine Clark: Washington must act to protect child care and protect children

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Child care centers around the country have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. At the outset, nearly two-thirds of child care providers said they could not survive a closure that extended longer than one month. Five months later, this economic impact, while severe, is compounded by the fact that our nation’s parents and guardians are possibly left without quality care options for their children. It’s estimated that the United States could lose half of its licensed child care capacity without government intervention. It is clear to me that Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and his colleagues in Washington must take action to avoid this potentially disastrous outcome.

Many families have either lost their jobs or are now working from home. Child care centers are largely supported by tuition paid by families. With that critical income lost, it is impacting many centers’ ability to stay afloat. Furthermore, with Black, Hispanic and Asian communities disproportionately impacted by job losses due to the pandemic, child care providers in predominantly minority communities are even more endangered. Broad permanent closures of child care providers will hinder our nation’s ability to care for children and recover after this crisis. Additionally, families across the country, especially those in Black, Hispanic and Asian communities, will be left with little to no child care support just as they start looking for new job opportunities or searching for educational and workforce training.

While still unfolding, this crisis is far from surprising. The fragility of the U.S. child care system has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Here in Missouri, in 2018, more than half our children lacked affordable access to child care. According to a report by Kids Win Missouri, the pandemic “has put Missouri’s already fragile child care infrastructure at risk and options for working families at even greater risk.” The report says that 63 of 115 counties were “child care deserts” before the pandemic. Since the outbreak and economic crisis, that number has increased 50%, which means that 95 counties are currently child care deserts, the report adds.

This data offers a grim picture of what child care could look like here in Missouri if Blunt and his colleagues don’t act swiftly to protect high-quality child care.

The impact of a major loss of early child care promises to have significant repercussions for the economy and further the geographic, racial and educational inequity among children. To mitigate these risks, we must call on our government officials to offer financial assistance for providers to open, welcome children safely, and ensure a robust child care sector is available to all families. This entails allowing states to design state-specific plans to support child care centers, providing grants based on need and fixed costs incurred by child care providers due to the pandemic, and providing financial resources to states to help child care providers stay in operation.

The good news is that a broad, bipartisan group of senators is putting forward legislative proposals that would protect child care here in Missouri and across the country. My hope is that Blunt, in his role on the Senate Appropriations Committee, will ensure that these provisions are included in the next recovery funding bill now being negotiated on Capitol Hill.

“A child’s first 1,000 days are a time to be seized, a time to level the playing field. Quality early care and education is not a luxury,” says Shael Polakow-Suransky, president of the Bank Street College of Education. Her remark pointedly illustrates exactly what is at stake here. I hope Washington acts to support child care and protect children here in Missouri.

Maxine Clark is the founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop and chief executive of the Clark-Fox Family Foundation.

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