By: Gongwer Ohio
Child care providers and advocates urged U.S. Sen. Rob Portman Wednesday to push for more funding for the industry in the next federal coronavirus relief package.
The current Republican proposal includes $15 billion, he said on a call organized by Groundwork Ohio, along with tax credits for the purchase of protective equipment and other supplies. Providers asked that Congress provide more than three times that total in the final package.
"If we don't hit $50 billion in this next package, a lot of these issues won't matter because our child care providers won't exist," said Katie Kelly, executive director of PRE4CLE. "While we're grateful that $15 billion is on the table, it's not enough to keep our system alive. We would ask that you very seriously consider supporting the $50 billion proposal. It's really the minimum of what we need to keep this system intact and keep families in the workforce."
Ms. Kelly said many providers are "just weeks away from permanent closures." If they do end up closing, it would roll back decades of progress building the system from one focused on direct care to one focused on early education.
"That is something as well that we cannot replace if we lose. It will take another 30 years to replace," she said.
Shannon Jones, executive director of Groundwork Ohio, said Gov. Mike DeWine's announcement Tuesday that providers could choose to return to their pre-pandemic staffing ratios will not address the fact that programs have been operating at a loss. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, July 28, 2020)
Sen. Portman again encouraged state lawmakers to get $850 million in CARES Act money for local governments distributed.
"That money was supposed to go to our local communities for, among other things, these kinds of services," he said.
He also said the first draft of the current fourth relief bill includes $15 billion for short-term assistance for child care, with lots of discretion for states.
"It doesn't have Washington red tape attached to it, so the money is very flexible," he said.
The so-called HEROES Act backed by Democrats includes $50 billion.
Sen. Portman said the federal government has already spent $3 trillion on COVID-19 this year, and that federal dollars are "not an endless flow of funding."
He also voiced concern that politics could get in the way of a deal between Republicans and Democrats on the fourth package.
"We're very far apart, and my fear is because the election's coming up and so on and because of the increased partisanship in this town that we might not be able to get something done," he said.
Patti Gleason, with Learning Grove in Cincinnati, urged the senator to continue to push for more funding so the child care industry can continue.
"When we look at that child care stimulus money, we can't have it only support for three more months of this situation," she said. "We have to look at it as a long-term reinvestment and rebuilding of our industry. I also really hope that when the election is over that, senator, you can step up and work in a bipartisan way to rethink, long-term, how child care is funded in our nation and put us in a better place so that we can improve teachers' salaries."