More families struggle to find child care after federal support dried up

More parents have had trouble finding child care in recent months, following the expiration of federal pandemic assistance for providers, according to a report released Monday by the National Women’s Law Center.

Some 22.2% of parents with children under age 12 reported not having child care in the past four weeks between January and April, compared with 17.7% who said the same between August and October, according to the analysis, which looked at the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The respondents said that children in their household were unable to attend child care at some point over the past four weeks because it was closed, unavailable, unaffordable or because they were concerned about their child’s safety in care.

The increase was concentrated in states that did not provide significant additional state funding for child care, per the analysis, which was first reported by Axios.

The Covid-19 pandemic rocked the child care industry, prompting Congress to provide $24 billion in stabilization grants as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which Democrats approved shortly after President Joe Biden took office in 2021.

But that funding – which reached more than 8 in 10 licensed child care centers and helped them hold onto workers by offering bonuses and raising wages, cover their rent, mortgage and utilities, buy personal protective equipment and other supplies, and provide mental health support – expired on September 30.

The end of the stabilization grants was expected to cause more than 70,000 child care programs to close and about 3.2 million children to lose their spots, according to an analysis last year by The Century Foundation.

Another $15 billion in supplemental child care discretionary funds for states, which they can use to increase payments to child care providers, will expire this September.

Some 11 states and the District of Columbia have invested in child care programs and providers. The states, which include Alaska, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington, are providing funds for child care provider grants, programs to support child care workforces or other measures that directly support providers, according to The Century Foundation.

In these states, the share of women who wanted to work but couldn’t over the past week because they were caring for a child not in school or child care fell to 31.9% between January and April, down from 45.3% between August and October, according to the center’s analysis. The change in other states was not statistically significant.

A separate survey earlier this year by the National Association for the Education of Young Children found that early childhood educators reported significantly less often that they had to raise tuition or had longer waitlists in the states that invested in child care.

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