Adapted from a column in the Gettysburg Times, August 27, 2020
During the Covid19 Pandemic, we have learned that some services are essential for the safety, health and well being of the citizens of our state and nation. Hospital workers, from custodial staff to doctors, became appreciated for their essential work. Law enforcement, ambulance drivers, grocery workers, sanitation workers were needed and valued during the lockdown.
However, no economic recovery will occur without adequate childcare services. As we open the economy and get the country back on its feet we must acknowledge the important role of childcare workers. Any employees, who have young children, are dependent on safe, high quality childcare so that they can return to work without concern or distraction. Many citizens have felt that this was only the concern of those parents who needed child care. However, having this essential service will be key to the nation’s economic comeback. A high quality childcare system provides for a strong workforce today and helps to develop the workforce of tomorrow.
In Pennsylvania our economy has lost an estimated $3.4 billion dollars a year because of a lack of childcare. This represents $591 million in tax revenue for the state. This was reported in a study done by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce and the Early Learning Investment Commission, before the present crisis. The study found that one of the top barriers to a reliable workforce is the availability of dependable childcare. Without good childcare, workers are more often late or absent from work. They can be distracted and worried about their children. Workers reported that they turned down promotions and training opportunities because of childcare needs.
At the height of the lockdown 80% of licensed childcare programs in the state were closed. Most of these programs work on a very slim financial margin. Parent payments represent 75% of the income to centers. Without this income, childcare workers were laid off and it was difficult for the centers to pay rent and utility bills. 30% of the centers that had closed in Pennsylvania have reported that they will not reopen.
Through the federal aid packages that were awarded to Pennsylvania, $104 million was allotted to assist Early Childhood programs Local programs received some relief. These funds were used to pay employees, acquire proper health and safety equipment and re-open.
Fortunately The Adams County Community Foundation came to the aid of local families and childcare centers with an assistance package. They provided $12,000 to the YWCA to cover the unforeseen costs that occurred as they opened their center to serve essential workers. The Foundation’s Adams County Grants program also provided scholarships for parents who may be unable to pay for childcare. The Robert C. Hoffman Trust provided funds to the Y for basic supplies as they reopen.
What happens when these assistance packages run out? Should directors need to consistently be searching for funds to keep their program solvent?
Before the pandemic, many childcare programs in Adams County had long waiting lists for a space at their center. Parents needed to put together a patchwork of providers to care for their children while they work. This might have included grandparents and other family members. This will not be possible in the Covid 19 era. Now, as children return to school on a part time basis, families must scramble to find safe and reliable childcare. Centers that reopen will need to reduce their class sizes and implement adequate safety procedures and equipment to keep everyone healthy. This will be costly.
The important role of high quality childcare will continue well past the end of the pandemic. It is essential that lawmakers establish consistent support for adequate childcare programming for the success of our economy and to promote the best development of our youngest citizens.
What will childcare funding look like in the future? Will Pennsylvania join other states in the country that provide free early childhood programming for all four-year old’s? Will there be programs to support children from birth to 4? Most of the industrial nations of the world make quality childcare a priority. Will businesses find ways to subsidize programs or assist employees with child care costs? Many large companies have child care programs on their premises as a way of improving the productivity of their employees. Will childcare workers be paid appropriately for the essential service they provide?
Perhaps the silver lining of this strange and difficult year will be that we will establish better ways to provide for the essential childcare needs of our community in the future.