Child Care Crisis: The Expiry of Emergency Funding and the Domino Effect on American Families

It’s the nightmare that’s been warned about for months: the expiration of billions in emergency childcare funding amidst the ongoing effects of the pandemic. While the stopgap bill just passed may have saved us from a government shutdown, it did nothing to prevent the ticking time bomb in the childcare sector from going off.

Remember the Child Care Stabilization Act that was proposed a little while back? This was Congress’s 11th-hour attempt to prevent what can only be described as a catastrophe in the making. But without the support from Republicans, that lifebuoy was snatched away, and now we’re looking at some genuinely distressing stats. According to The Century Foundation, over 3 million kids could lose their childcare spots, more than 70,000 childcare programs might shut their doors, and 232,000 childcare workers (already in a severely underpaid bracket) are staring down the barrel of unemployment.

Nicole Jorwic, from Caring Across Generations, pinpointed the anguish of millions when she stated that while a shutdown was avoided, Congress simultaneously failed a multitude of children and families by allowing the “childcare cliff” to loom closer, unchecked. The unsavory political gamesmanship taking place in Congress is not just pawns on a chessboard; it’s real people, real livelihoods, and the fabric of our societal structure that’s being jeopardized.

During the pandemic, the childcare sector took a severe hit and has been limping ever since, trailing behind other sectors in its recovery. The emergency childcare grants, part of the American Rescue Plan, were a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of childcare providers and shielded millions of children from losing their spots in childcare centers. But with this fund now expired, we’re on the brink of chaos. Centers are poised to hike tuition, putting a strain on low-income families and pushing them out of accessible childcare.

Digging into the numbers, the Labor Department noted a striking range in childcare prices, even in lower-priced areas. In 2022 dollars, costs ranged from $5,357 for school-age home-based care in smaller counties to a whopping $17,171 for infant center-based care in large counties, representing between 8% and 19.3% of median family income per child.

Families are looking at a staggering $9 billion a year in lost earnings, estimated by The Century Foundation, with many potentially having to step back from work or reduce hours to care for their children due to this lapse in funding.

We can’t ignore the poignant reality outlined by Daniel Hains of the National Association for the Education of Young Children: parents simply can’t afford to bear the full brunt of providing care. But nor can providers afford to earn any less than they already do. It’s a catch-22 of monumental proportions.

This isn’t merely a policy issue. It’s about parents now facing impossible choices, childcare providers shutting their doors, and a workforce in jeopardy. The rapid unraveling of a pandemic-era safety net that had successfully lifted tens of millions from poverty only makes this descent all the more bitter. In 2021, child poverty in the U.S. more than doubled – a statistic that is unacceptable for any society, especially one that claims to value family and hard work.

The childcare crisis isn’t a future event – it’s happening now. The lost childcare resources are going to hit families, predominantly those who cannot absorb an additional financial burden, incredibly hard.

Jessica Sager of All Our Kin flagged that states like Arkansas, Montana, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. might see at least half of the licensed childcare programs close. Another 14 states could witness a reduction by a third in their options for licensed childcare programs.

This isn’t just numbers and political chess. Their lives and futures are on the line. So, let’s rally, let’s elevate this conversation and push it into every political space: Child care isn’t a sideline issue. It’s a mainstage crisis. Let’s make sure our political representatives know we think so too.