Recently, Executive Director Radha Mohan of the Early Care and Education Consortium (ECEC) said, “We estimate that without immediate financial support thousands of child care centers and family child care homes will be unable to cover their fixed costs within the next month [during the COVID-19 pandemic].” With countless child care programs across Missouri closing, and those that remain open operating at a deficit, it’s hard to imagine that the child care industry will rebound after the pandemic abates.
The first stimulus bill responding to the coronavirus included funding for child care programs in Missouri. However, that funding fell short, covering only 7% of the expense of sustaining the child care system in the state. Child care programs need emergency assistance to pay occupancy expenses, maintain payroll and benefits, and pay additional stipends or incentive pay for educators willing to put themselves at risk and continue working to support the children of essential workers.
Behind the programs are the people: the women and men who care for Missouri’s children. These child care workers bear the brunt of this broken system during regular times; but now, as the pandemic and subsequent economic crisis have gripped the state and the entire nation, child care workers are feeling the effects of their underpaid and underappreciated work. Child care is a notoriously low-paying career, and many workers don’t have benefits like health insurance or paid time off. Now, if a child care worker decides to cease working because they don’t want to be exposed to coronavirus, they are ineligible for extra unemployment benefits from the recent stimulus bill.
We must reassess our approach to child care, or else child care will not exist after this crisis. And without child care, children do not have access to high-quality early education, people can’t work, and society ceases to function.