Millions of Virginia moms left the workforce last year. A new law outlines a plan to get them back. 

RICHMOND – America’s still in the thick of it, as far as unemployment goes. Even though the country started opening back up, 9.8 million Americans still face unemployment. That’s especially true for Virginia moms.

The most recent number for jobs created in America in the past month was inaccessible on Thursday, due to extended site maintenance at the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. However, in March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly jobs report showed that the economy gained 916,000 net jobs.

Out of over 900,000 positions, 315,000 went to women and 601,000 went to men. That means women only accounted for 34.4% of net job gain.

All told, the U.S. economy lost 22 million jobs from February to April 2020. 

At the onset of the pandemic, approximately 12.9 million mothers living with school-age children in the United States left the workforce. Around seven-in-10 mothers of school-age children worked before the pandemic, with the health crisis impacting approximately 45% of those households.

Why did so many women leave the workforce? There isn’t just one answer.

Some women experienced layoffs. Others experience furloughs. However, one of the major concerns for women was no farther than her own front door – her children.

In America, kids left the classroom in March 2020 rather than the regularly scheduled May or June summer vacation dates. 

A study published by the Becker Friedman Institute found that 32% of the workforce had someone in their household under 14 years of age. That meant approximately 50 million Americans experienced childcare considerations before returning to work. 

Remember those 916,000 net jobs in March? Only 2,100 of those opened up in the childcare sector. 

However, in Virginia, a new law recently went into effect, geared toward helping mothers return to the workforce. 

A Mother Helping Virginia Moms

Like many Virginia moms, Sen. Jennifer McClellan juggles two important jobs every day – raising children and having a successful career.

While her children are now six and 10 years old, McClellan recalled those first few years of the balancing act.

“Especially for infants – the younger the kid, the harder it is just because you’ve got to not only keep them alive and watch over them, but knowing that 80% of their brain’s going to develop before they’re three and 90% before they’re five, it’s really critically important to make sure you’re not just balancing their safety and wellbeing, but you’re balancing laying that foundation for the rest of their lives,” McClellan said. 

Equipped with firsthand mom-and-job experience, McClellan introduced Senate Bill 1316 during the Virginia General Assembly’s 2021 Special Session I. Gov. Ralph Northam approved the bill in March, making it law in July.

While the pandemic brought the issues to light on a national level, childcare inequity existed long before 2020. The new law addresses those gaps.

“This really is responding to before COVID we didn’t have enough providers. And the sort of financial model of all of the cost of childcare falling on the parents – except in some cases when you can get a subsidy – just isn’t sustainable,” McClellan said. “What this does is [it] begins to stabilize the childcare industry that was already struggling before COVID. Now it’s definitely struggling. But beginning to shift how it’s funded.”

A New Law

The Child Care Stabilization and Quality Care Act went into effect on July 1. It provides greater financial stability for childcare providers and helps address workforce shortages.

“First, it creates a pilot program where federal subsidies today are spent based on how many kids attend a daycare or a childcare center. But that childcare center has to make its staffing and supply decisions based on how many kids are enrolled,” McClellan said. “So the first thing it does is shifts to say, ‘We’re going to fund through these subsidies based on enrollment, not attendance.’”

The pilot will also identify the total cost of quality care, which includes an educational component. 

“The other thing it does is, for providers, if you’re applying for a job at a childcare center, you have to get a background check, but that background check doesn’t follow you,” McClellan said.

The senator used an example of a qualified childcare worker applying to three jobs at once. If all three employers held interest in the potential employee, all three would issue a background check. The potential employee would go through the background check process three separate times, even though the information remained unchanged.

“If you stayed at a place for five years, that background check would be good for the full five years. But if you move to another place, you’ve got to get a new background check,” McClellan said. “So this also shifts to say that background check follows the employee so that it makes it easier to hire employees. And it makes it easier, if you’re applying for jobs, for you to do that.” 

A Stable Start

Under the Child Care Stabilization and Quality Care Act, children receive care catered to their needs from licensed professionals.

“These would be the licensed childcare providers that are either licensed through the Department of Social Services or the Department of Education,” McClellan said. “So it’s school-based, private providers [and] in-home based providers that are licensed with the state.” 

The Department of Social Services will work with providers to identify participants in the pilot program.

In addition to the current progress, McClellan noted more strides concerning childcare and getting mothers back into the workforce in the future. 

“This is really, I’d say, the tip of the iceberg. It’s designed to begin to stabilize the childcare industry and to begin to shift us toward a new funding model. So there’ll be a lot more information to come, based on the information we get from the pilot,” McClellan said. “But we really have a lot of work to do to fully [take care of] all of our childcare needs, but this is a good first step.”

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com 

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