The New York Times published a feature on the child care crisis emerging out of the pandemic-induced economic collapse, using New York City as an example of how reopening plans and conflicts with child care in the fall could present a huge barrier to rebuilding the economy. The article broaches the concern that the country doesn’t have a “serious solution” for a child care crisis.
“Business and union leaders say the city needs to mount a kind of Marshall Plan-like effort to find child care for many of the system’s 1.1 million students when they are not in classrooms,” the article says. “They said there was no way the economy … could fully return to normal if parents had no choice but to stay at home to watch their children.”
Additionally, the article points out that many families won’t find out which days their children can attend school until August, which will make informing employers about schedules complicated. Parents have “expressed confusion and anxiety about the prospect of a part-time return to schools without a child care plan,” and compromised work schedules could cause financial instability for families, the article says, concluding that “For now, working families are left in limbo, fearful for their own livelihoods and for the city’s future.”
As illustrated in the “Quality Child Care” section of our Minnesota Equity Blueprint, Minnesota (and much of the country) was experiencing the likes of a child care crisis before COVID-19 hit — the pandemic simply further exposed and exacerbated that crisis. A graphic in this section of the Blueprint shows that in most counties in Minnesota, prior to the pandemic, a family of four with two working parents can still have annual child care costs exceeding a mortgage payment.
Nancy Jost, the Director of Early Childhood at West Central Initiative, said availability and fear of exposure to COVID-19, affordability of food and cleaning supplies, not having a big enough staff or having too many on staff, navigating finances, and keeping up with all of the CDC guidelines are just some of the major stressors many child care providers are coping with during this time. We expect so much of the people caring for and educating children while parents are at work, but consistently take them for granted; we show women, and particularly women of color, that we don’t value their work by not adequately compensating them. And as we’re expressing gratitude to healthcare professionals, transportation workers, grocery store employees and so many other essential workers, we often leave out people working in child care. “Rarely do you ever hear child care providers mentioned in those thank yous,” Nancy said. But there is hope, if we put our minds to it, she said. Right now, Early Childhood Initiatives in counties across west central Minnesota are partnering with child care providers, supplying them with food, cleaning supplies, masks, diapers and gift cards, creating kits to assist children with online learning and giving out grants.
Under the COVID-19 Public Health Support Funds for Child Care, the state of Minnesota's Department of Human Services is now issuing $56.6 million in funds to eligible child care providers. According to a news story from the Minnesota Department of Health, licensed family child care providers can receive up to $1,200 and licensed centers up to $8,500 each month for July, August and September. To receive the funding, providers must show they were “operating and serving children as of June 15, 2020, and attest to remaining open and serving children for the duration of the funding period, among other criteria,” the story says. The Center for Disease Control also offers a guide for child care programs remaining open during the pandemic, outlining strategies and resources to keep everyone safe and healthy.
A MinnPost opinion piece written by Jan Kruchoski and Fred Senn lays out how the pandemic will aggravate both achievement gaps and a lack of quality child care in Minnesota.
Before the pandemic, “Minnesota families already had a significant shortage, with only two quality child-care slots available for every 10 children under age 5 on average… A March 2020 survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) found that 55 percent of Minnesota child-care programs can’t survive more than a two-week shutdown without public support,” the article says.
Kruchoski and Senn propose funding quality child care for children in low-income families and for the children of middle-income workers through Early Learning Scholarships and the Child Care Assistance Program, additional Peacetime Emergency Child Care Grants from the state, and rewarding child care providers who utilize “pandemic-specific quality best practices.”
“Without child care, many essential workers … can’t work. Without child care, many nonessential workers can’t go back to work to fuel a desperately needed economic recovery. Without child care, Minnesota can’t have the educated workforce we need for successful communities and global competitiveness,” the article urges.
“Child care is more than a family issue … it’s also a societal issue.” - Nancy Jost, Director of Early Childhood at West Central Initiative