WASHINGTON (CN) — With nearly a third of the U.S. workforce at home with kids, a mostly remote school year imminent and widespread economic anxiety, the House voted 249-163 Wednesday to approve a $50 billion aid package aimed at tackling a worsening child care crisis.
When the coronavirus first began surging through the U.S. in March, groups like the National Association for the Education of Young Children surveyed 6,000 child care providers to gauge where they thought they would be without federal intervention.
Even then, before the virus was spreading like wildlife, at least 30% of those child care providers said their expectations were low and they fully anticipated needing to close their facilities within two weeks if the novel coronavirus went unchecked inside U.S. borders.
As infection rates shot up in April and the federal government slow-walked its response, those fears came true: of the more than 5,000 providers polled, nearly half were closed completely within two weeks.
Now, after several months of a full-on pandemic, there are 4.3 million Americans infected, more than 150,000 dead and deep-running contentions over how to reopen schools safely, the situation for child care providers — be they parents, single mothers or licensed professionals — remains bleak.
“This was a significant issue before the pandemic. It will be one after. This is not about going back to normal. We cannot do that either. If we cannot make families feel safe, that their kids are going to be in a safe and secure environment, we’re not going to get our economy back on track,” Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said from the House floor Wednesday as she urged passage of H.R. 7027, or the Child Care Is Essential Act.
DeLauro first introduced the legislation in May. It infuses $50 billion into a child care and development block grant already in place under Health and Human Services Department purview. Through those grants, child care providers, whether open or temporarily closed due to Covid-19, can apply for funds to shore up operating costs, pay staff, conduct cleanings of their facilities and prepare to reopen with social distancing measures in place where possible.
The bill aims to give half of the entire American essential work force population — which happens to comprise roughly 27 million women — more of a fighting chance to keep their careers and their children cared for as they disproportionately struggle to balance work and home responsibilities.
Representative Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., drove this point home during an impassioned plea ahead of the vote Wednesday, noting that the gender impact in child care was indisputable.
Nineteen million children live in a single parent household, and 70% of those are households run by single mothers, she said.
“Women will be forced to choose between staying at home or going to work and if kids feel unsafe, it will be mom staying home in the majority of cases,” Sherrill said. “If women have to leave the workforce and cut back hours, these decisions will have long lasting impacts on their careers, their pay and the economic security of their children.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., also noted from the floor Wednesday that people of color, and particularly women of color, will feel the greatest pinch of the child care crisis. They are already overrepresented in working class or essential service jobs like those at grocery stores, restaurants or hospitals, or in professions where remote work is altogether impossible.
In addition to H.R. 7027, lawmakers passed a similar bill on Wednesday in a 250-161 vote. H.R. 7327, or the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act, was sponsored by Representatives Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and Richard Neal, D-Mass.
The legislation was first introduced last month and proposes enhanced dependent care tax credits, a refundable payroll tax credit for child care providers and incentives to keep child care workers on the job. About $850 million is allocated for states to address the needs of essential workers on the frontline of the pandemic and approximately $10 billion in grants is earmarked for infrastructure repairs like run-down buildings, lead paint, broken water heaters and more.
“What’s good for our babies is good for our budget,” Lowey said from the floor Wednesday.