By: Amy Meade, Director, Center for Early Learning at Groundwork Ohio
** Update: Since publishing this blog, the General Assembly sent a large COVID relief package to the Governor, including appropriations for $499 million in federal child care spending.
In March 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law, issuing three streams of federal funding to states through the Child Care and Development Fund. This legislation was developed and created in response to the devastating consequences the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the health and well-being of young children and their families. Despite the nearly $1.3 billion allocated for child care in the Child Care Stabilization Sub-Grants created by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), only 61 percent of ARPA funds have been utilized; leaving over half a billion dollars left to be spent.* These funds have been critical to the child care industry, providing a lifeline to many programs, while also not being enough to stop the permanent closure of 798 Ohio child care programs in the past two years.**
It is not a surprise that Ohio has a severe child care workforce shortage, areas where safe, stable child care is not available or accessible for families who need it, and that child care costs have soared over the last several years. To address the child care crisis, and implement innovative and expansive changes to support the child care workforce, Ohio must use the remaining ARPA child care discretionary funds to:
Increase access to quality child care for working Ohioans earning low wages to support the healthy development of children and improve parental workforce participation.
Pay for the actual cost of quality care that provides fair compensation to early childhood professionals.
Build quality capacity to support the unique needs of infants and toddlers.
The Foundation Needed to Ensure our Youngest Children are Healthy and Ready to Learn is Cracked
While 39 percent of Ohioans live in child care deserts, areas with more than three young children for every child care slot, 60 percent of non-working or part-time moms with children under the age of five say they would go back to work or work more hours if their child had access to quality child care at a reasonable cost.*** Families that do have access to child care are continuously asked to pay more for these services. An Ohio family with an infant and a toddler spends more than $18,000 a year on center-based child care. We need our systems, policies, programs, and communities structured to support health and
readiness to learn for Ohio’s youngest children. Not only does this lay a foundation for
children to thrive, but it also puts Ohio on the path to becoming a healthier, more productive, and economically vibrant state.
A recent report released by Action for Children highlights the devasting impact COVID-19 has had on the child care system in Central Ohio. Although this report’s survey was initiated in May 2020, it has exposed more broadly the fundamental weaknesses in our child care system that many families, early educators, and employers have experienced over the past few decades. Here’s what we know based on the most recent survey (September 2022):
One in 10 Central Ohio providers are not confident that they will still be open within three months.
For half of providers in these communities, monthly revenue does not cover expenses.
Staffing shortages are paralyzing. In Central Ohio, 81 percent of centers based in the region reported needing staff (approximately 1,985 positions) compared to 50 percent in 2021.
The average wage for Ohio early educators in child care settings based on a study in 2020 was $10.67/hour, and most workers received no employer supports such as paid leave or planning time.
More than half of providers have had to raise tuition since September 2021 and over 40 percent of providers who have already raised tuition plan on raising it again within the next six months.
These numbers have very real, and sometimes very harsh, implications for children’s lives. Safe, stable, and nurturing environments and early learning experiences are essential for children’s healthy growth and development. Children’s early experiences lay the groundwork for physical, emotional, social, and intellectual growth later in life. High-quality early childhood education, such as Head Start, public preschool, and early intervention services, can improve school readiness and build the foundation for future educational achievement. Quality early childhood education and early learning supports can also counteract the harms and stressors to which children living in poverty or other difficult circumstances may be exposed.
States Agree That Investing in Child Care is Non-Negotiable
Ohio has spent nearly $800 million of rescue funds on assisting child care providers throughout the state. This money has provided stabilization grants to child care providers to assist in costs related to operations, workforce recruitment and retention, expanding access, mental health support, and technology. In addition, the state used federal rescue funds to provide two phases of Hero Pay to child care professionals. Eligible child care professionals received up to $1,200 in phase one (October 2020-September 2021) and up to $3,000 in phase two (September 2022-February 2023). It is critical that Ohio continues to provide this needed support to child care programs and professionals.
A brief written by the National Women’s Law Center indicates many states have chosen to utilize ARPA funds to support child care programs and professionals in ways that are both similar to and distinct from Ohio.
Kansas and Montana are providing bonuses and incentive payouts to child care workers to increase attraction to the field as well as reward workers for their continued service.
Alabama is using allotted ARPA child care discretionary funds to create a grant opportunity for eligible, licensed child care providers. Grant recipients will pay their eligible staff a bonus of up to $3,000 per quarter for two years.
Arizona has continued the suspension of the waiting list for child care assistance so that eligible families who apply for assistance receive it, increased payment rates for child care providers including non-certified relative providers, and provided child care assistance to returning workers.
Other states have chosen to direct ARPA funds to support families and ease the financial burden of accessing child care, while ensuring that child care is safe and available.
Indiana waived copayments for child care from March 28, 2021 to April 30, 2022.
Georgia increased the income limit to qualify for assistance from 50 percent to 85 percent of state median income, and raised the cutoff to be in the “very low-income” priority group from 50 percent to 150 percent of poverty. The state is also expanding families’ access to child care assistance by extending Awarding Child Care Education Scholarship Supplements (ACCESS) through September 2023; with ACCESS, the child care assistance program pays a child care provider’s full published rate, including the parent copayment and any remaining difference between the state’s standard payment rate and the amount the provider charges to private-paying parents. The state is also planning to expand formal education pathways for infant and toddler teachers.
Mississippi plans to provide enhanced payment rates to child care providers and to cover copayments for families receiving child care assistance.
Policymakers Must Act Now
Child care has been left out of conversations and bills that would provide the resources necessary to fully support parents, providers, and the economy, despite significant need and interest in addressing it. Close examination of the data makes it clear that Ohio has room for improvement in supporting our youngest children and their families. The recent federal COVID-19 relief funding dedicated to child care must be spent on assisting with stabilizing and sustaining the child care system, improving child care workforce recruitment, and increasing access to child care for families. This funding is only a start to the large-scale, sustained investments in the system that is needed. We cannot lose sight of what should be included in the spending, building on the considerable progress made this year.
TO LEARN MORE:
*:Ohio Poverty Law Center’s Ohio ARPA Tracker, accessed November 9, 2022.
**: Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, 2022