Politico

'Crashing down’: How the child care crisis is magnifying racial disparities


The collapse of the child care industry is hitting women of color the hardest, threatening to stoke racial and gender inequities and putting pressure on Congress to address the crisis in its new round of coronavirus aid.

Black and Latina women are suffering a double-barreled blow as coronavirus-induced shutdowns batter the industry, since they dominate the ranks of child care providers and have long struggled to gain access to the services for their own kids.

The sector, which saw 60 percent of its programs close at the height of the pandemic before rebounding slightly, is still down some 237,000 workers from last year — a number that’s likely to grow as states shut down again, economists say. Some projections show the industry could permanently lose half its programs. Two in 5 child care providers this month said they will shut for good without an infusion of federal funding.

The issue is shaping up to be a key faultline as Congress this week enters negotiations over the next round of coronavirus aid, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he hopes to clear before August recess.

If “we allow them to go under, we are jeopardizing both the incomes and wealth of that workforce,” said Melissa Boteach, a vice president at National Women’s Law Center. And “the parents who are not going to be able to go back to work or who are going to have to give up their careers or jobs for less pay — because they can’t find the child care to cover the hours that they need — are disproportionately going to be women and women of color.”

Ninety-three percent of child care workers are women, and 45 percent are Black, Asian or Latino, according to Labor Department data. And half of child care businesses are minority-owned. At the same time, Black and Latina mothers are more likely to be the family breadwinners, more likely to hold low-paying jobs, more likely to be considered essential workers, and more likely to live in child care deserts.

Democrats have put forth two proposals that would appropriate more than $60 billion to the industry, which they say are just a starting point. The measures, H.R. 7027 and H.R. 7327, cleared the House Rules Committee Friday and are expected on the floor July 29, lawmakers said. Both include provisions that would give priority to providers serving low-income, “low-supply” and other high-need communities.


The Child Care Is Essential Act, led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) in the House, would appropriate $50 billion for the establishment of a grant program within the Department of Homeland Security’s Child Care and Development Block Grants that would aid providers that have either remained open or are temporarily closed due to Covid-19. Senate Democrats included identical language in their Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act, S. 4112, which Minority Leader Chuck Schumer advocated for on a press call Tuesday.

The Child Care for Economy Recovery Act, introduced by Democrats in the House Ways and Means and Appropriations committees last month, would take a broader look at rescuing the industry — creating and expanding tax cuts, in addition to appropriating $10 billion for a new grant program for states to improve their child care infrastructure.

“When you look at the impact on providers and providers of color, and women of color who are parents looking for jobs, we really created a perfect storm,” said Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), vice chair of the Democratic caucus and a sponsor of both bills.

Separately, Schumer on Thursday released a plan to aid communities of color, which would include $135 billion for child care, health care and job training. And the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, rolled out a $750 billion proposal Tuesday that would bolster the industry, including by providing free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, building new child care facilities, and creating tax credits for informal caregivers.

Republicans agree the industry needs help. A group of 41 GOP House members sent a letter to leadership Thursday calling for “additional, targeted support.” But they’re likely to pursue a different approach than Democrats, as well as a lower level of funding.


“I do want additional dollars going toward child care,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who unveiled a Senate GOP proposal last week. But “we simply, as a nation, can’t do another $3-plus trillion package.”

Top Republicans including Senate HELP Chair Lamar Alexander of Tennessee are behind Ernst’s plan, which would create a grant program that would give up to nine months of financial assistance to child care providers for coverage of coronavirus-related expenses. It would also offer technical aid to help a diversity of providers access the program.

Though the bill appropriates no new money to the industry, Ernst and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) offered a resolution in May proposing that the next coronavirus relief package include $25 billion for the Child Care and Block Development Grant program. They’re still pushing for that funding, Ernst told POLITICO, and the grant program “could be a subset” of that.

Democrats slammed the proposal for not providing enough.

“To say ‘we’re going to pass something without a dime in it’ is really not an approach that is workable,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top ranking Democrat on the HELP Committee and sponsor of S. 4112, as well as the Senate companion to H.R. 7027. Even $25 billion “is not enough to address this crisis.”

It’s unclear what middle ground the parties will reach. But it looks like the package will include significantly higher levels of investment in child care than previous legislation. The CARES Act appropriated $3.5 billion to the Child Care and Block Development Grant program, while the HEROES Act — the House-passed Democratic proposal for the next round of aid — would appropriate $7 billion.

The Trump administration has remained mostly mute on the topic, focusing more on reopening schools.

“We obviously do want more child care providers,” Brooke Rollins, director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, said at a POLITICO event Thursday. “There’s no doubt that is an issue that will remain a priority for this White House.” But “we’ve also been very clear that we believe that schools need to reopen.”

Economists say that even pre-pandemic, the industry was stretched thin, operating on minuscule margins and accessible mainly to the wealthiest — and whitest — communities.

“Covid has poured salt in those wounds,” Elise Gould, an economist with the Economic Policy Center, said. “It’s not just out of reach, it’s unavailable.”

These pre-existing weaknesses, combined with the increasing number of schools that have announced they will not be opening come fall, signal the need for an immediate response.

“Child care providers have been pushed to the brink, and they’re going to start closing,” Katie Hamm, a vice president at the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress, said. “We’re hitting a crescendo on this where if Congress doesn’t do something, it’s all going to come crashing down.”

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