Virginia families have taken it on the chin the past few years; first with the COVID-19 pandemic, school closures, and uncertainty over economic life; and more recently, with rising costs and lack of affordable child care.
While the rate of inflation has finally begun to ease in recent months, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and fellow Democrats are warning that the child care crisis could soon get worse—unless Congress acts.
Kaine and several other senators urged lawmakers this week to provide new child care funding ahead of a coming “funding cliff” that could ultimately force nearly half of Virginia’s child care programs to close.
That possibility—outlined in a new report by The Century Foundation (TCF)—could leave tens of thousands of Virginia families without access to child care.
The TCF report found that unless Congress intervenes, an estimated 88,265 children in Virginia are expected to lose their child care beginning Sept. 30, due to the projected closure of nearly 1,400 child care programs.
The child care sector has been in crisis for years, but in March 2021, the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a law that provided states nearly $24 billion in emergency funding to help child care providers stay open and prevent a total collapse of the sector, and another $15 billion to help families afford care.
A US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) analysis found that those funds flowed to 220,000 child care providers, helping them pay their rent, mortgage, utilities, and boost wages. The funds helped save the jobs of more than 1 million child care workers, and enabled continued care for as many as 9.6 million kids across the country, according to the HHS report.
But those funds are set to expire in September, and when they do, the sector will be “starved of resources,” according to TCF’s report, and providers will have to increase prices in order to stay open and retain workers—or risk going out of business. In either scenario, families will be left with fewer options.
In Virginia, for example, the United Way of Greater Charlottesville has warned that child care prices in the state are higher than ever, ranging anywhere from $14,500 per year for a toddler to $24,000 per year for an infant. A loss in federal funds would likely only send those sticker prices even higher.
It isn’t just the affected children and families that would suffer, either, but employers, communities, and the commonwealth as a whole. Families would be forced to pay higher costs for the child care that does exist, and those who can’t afford it could be forced to cut back on hours or leave the workforce altogether in order to provide care for their kids.
According to TCF’s analysis, Virginia parents would lose an estimated $280 million in earnings as a result of having to reduce their hours or leave the workforce. As a result, employer productivity would decline sharply, costing the state $328 million in economic activity and $13.9 million in income tax revenues.
Nearly 2,900 child care workers would also lose their jobs.
To prevent this disaster, Kaine and fellow Sens. Patty Murray (D-Washington), Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) have reintroduced the Child Care for Working Families Act, a bill that would provide crucial federal funding to help stabilize the child care sector.
Under the bill, most families would pay $10 a day or less for child care, and no eligible family will pay more than 7% of their income on child care. The average family would save $5,000 per year on child care costs if the bill were to become law, according to one analysis.
The legislation would also provide subsidies to providers to ensure child care workers are paid a living wage and reach parity with elementary school teachers who have similar credentials and experience. It would also increase access to Pre-K and full-day, full-year Head Start programs and boost wages for Head Start workers, and provide funding for states to expand universal local preschool programs.
“The child care crisis is holding our families, workers, and economy back. I’ve heard from families across Virginia about challenges finding affordable child care, and from child care workers about challenges getting by with low wages,” Kaine said in a statement. “The end of child care funding from the American Rescue Plan will only make matters worse, which is why I’m working alongside Senator Murray to push for our Child Care for Working Families Act to shore up support for this critical industry.”
Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Newport News) introduced the House version of the bill and has also highlighted the urgency of passing the legislation.
“The Child Care for Working Families Act makes the investments we need to turn our child care system around and meet the needs of children, parents, and child care workers,” Scott said in a statement in April. “We must finally pass this bill and expand access to quality early learning opportunities, provide child care workers with the support they deserve, and give parents the freedom to pursue rewarding careers and contribute to our economic growth.”
It’s not just lawmakers who are worried about what might happen once the federal funds run out in September.
A Morning Consult poll conducted in June on behalf of the Century Foundation found that 64% of Americans are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the looming child care cliff.
That poll also found that 54% of parents who regularly pay for child care say that it would take them longer than one month to find a suitable alternative if their current program were to close.
Kaine and his fellow senators reintroduced the Child Care for Working Families Act in April, but the bill has yet to advance. The House version of the bill also remains in limbo, with less than 100 days to go until the ARPA funds lapse and tens of thousands of Virginia families lose their child care.
“The need to overhaul our child care system is only growing, especially as our job market continues to grow at a record pace,” Rep. Scott said. “Without investments in the care economy, these jobs will remain unfilled because too many workers, especially women, will have to remain at home and our economy will never reach its full potential. Let’s be clear. The child care crisis cannot be solved without sustained public funding.”
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