Wendy Pestrue is the CEO & President of United Way of Greater Toledo. Wendy is an attorney and has more than 20 years of nonprofit experience.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have been struggling to make ends meet and survive during this difficult year. However, even before the pandemic, parents of Northwest Ohio were facing adversity in accessing, and being able to afford, high-quality child care. With the pandemic slowly coming to an end, working families and providers continue to lack the proper supports they need around child care.
According to data from United Way’s “Ohio ALICE Report” — ALICE being an acronym for “asset limited, income constrained, employed” — the average four-person household in Lucas, Ottawa, and Wood County, having two adults and two children, would need to budget $1,474 per month, just to afford child care. Astoundingly, child care in the state of Ohio is nearly on-par with the costs of in-state college tuition. We also must note that 12,697 families, with children in our counties, currently live-in poverty, while an additional 11,989 families, with children, are “asset limited.” These are Ohio’s working families. Parents who are struggling to make ends meet, who want to give their children the high-quality care they deserve, but simply cannot afford it. Child care being seen as an unaffordable expense leads to parents having to miss work shifts, or pass-up on additional working hours, because they have no place that is safe or educationally enriching to take their child. After all, when choosing between the safety of your kid, or a paycheck, a parent will always choose their child. What I have just outlined are the short-term economic impacts, but we must also analyze the long-term consequences of families not enrolling their children in high-quality care.
If children are not engaging in educationally based environments early in their lives, they more-than-likely will not be prepared for kindergarten, which ultimately determines high school graduation rates. And, as you know, obtaining your GED or diploma dictates whether you will go on to learn a trade, or attend college. In Ohio, almost 50 percent of all kids who took the kindergarten readiness assessment scored “not on track.” In Toledo, roughly three in every five kids are not prepared for kindergarten. All these economic outcomes — hours a parent can work or the career a toddler will go on to achieve — starts with child care.
By expanding eligibility for publicly funded child care from 130 percent to 150 percent of the federal poverty level; we can help alleviate the financial burden of quality child care for working families. This would specifically support a family of three, making $32,580 annually, or $15.66 an hour or less, afford child care. By making this amendment (SC2363) to House Bill 110, and increasing eligibility, we will accomplish three things, as I have already iterated:
Help more kids be ready for kindergarten in our state, which correlates with long-term graduation rates.
Help more families retain employment and not have to change their working hours via having access to care.
By creating greater access, this means that child care centers and care providers can welcome more kids into their facilities, sustaining their operations and offering their services to a wider community audience.
We have reached a pivotal moment.
Today, we have the opportunity to create real, meaningful conversation around the importance of child care. As this budget moves through the Ohio Senate, legislators from both sides of the aisle have the power to help working families gain access to this critical service. Increasing eligibility certainly has a price and requires thoughtful investment, and it is up to us to determine whether our kids are worth it. United Way of Greater Toledo and its members strongly believe they are.
Groundwork Ohio's budget blog series features stories from child care professionals, families, business leaders, and community members on why there's an urgent need in their communities to expand access to quality child care. In the state biennial budget, Ohio legislators have the opportunity to increase eligibility for the state's publicly funded child care program from 130% of the Federal Poverty Level to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level. Read our child care budget fact sheet to learn more about why there is an urgent need to increase access to quality child care. Take action today by contacting your Senator urging their support for expanding eligibility by clicking here.