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Mayor Bowser’s $2.8 Million Child Care Relief Grants Are ‘A Drop In The Bucket’
New Survey of District Early Childhood Programs Nine Months After Onset of COVID-19 Reveals That The Sector Is On The Brink of Collapse
WASHINGTON, DC — DC’s early childhood owners and operators are saying they are worried about their businesses surviving in a sector stretched beyond its limits. A new survey, taken nine months after pandemic health and safety restrictions closures led to sharp enrollment drops with only limited government relief, reveals a sector teetering on the brink of collapse.
The survey, The Status of DC Child Care During COVID-19, reflects responses from 170 early childhood programs representing all wards. DC Action for Children, DC Early Learning Collaborative, DC Association for the Education of Young Children, Under 3 DC, Washington Area Child Care Association, and the Director’s Exchange conducted the survey, which offers timely data about the challenges and opportunities facing the District’s early learning system.
Responses depict a sector in which child care programs continue to experience ongoing uncertainty and financial strain. Financial relief from local government has been limited and difficult to access for many. And for programs serving low-income families with support from child care subsidies, uncertainty reigns because of a significant subsidy payment change that went into effect November 1–during the administration of the survey.
Two-thirds of the city’s early childhood programs reopened by the end of November, but families are not re-enrolling children at pre-COVID rates because of fear of the virus, and other challenges including program-based health restrictions on class sizes, and a parent’s job loss or change preventing them from paying tuition. Fewer than one-third of the programs reported full enrollment, and all but two of the at-capacity programs were small centers or family child care homes serving fewer than 50 children. According to survey respondents, revenue has plummeted in a sector where the margins were already small before the pandemic, and operating costs have skyrocketed 54-66%.
While child care business owners welcomed the news of $2.8 million in support from Mayor Bowser, Cynthia Davis, president of the DC Family Child Care Association, said, “It’s not enough, it’s a drop in the bucket.”
“Family Child Care Homes received less support than others through the CARES Act (averaging $3,000), and we are at the bottom of DC’s early learning totem pole in pay equity and valued businesses,” continued Davis. “It is little to nothing considering parents cannot be gainfully employed without child care. Family Child Care is a valuable business and should be viewed as such. Considering where we are right now, the mayor’s assistance will not be enough to save DC child care.”
Child care is the engine that makes our local economy go. Not every parent can work from home and care for their children. Most of the District’s Black and brown families cannot. They depend on these programs to earn the financial resources to pay for housing, food and other essential family needs.
As Kathy Hollowell-Makle, executive director of the DC Association for the Education of Young Children, stated, “Child care makes all other work possible. Any loss of child care is a loss of things greater: nurturing places for children to learn and thrive and where parents feel comfortable and assured for their children’s wellbeing while they work. Any loss of child care would hinder parents’ ability to return to work.”
DC’s business community is also stressing the need for a stable child care sector. In the District of Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 State of Business Report, they warned of “ continued stagnation in economic activity if workers cannot return to work due to a lack of child care.”
Public and philanthropic has helped the sector stay afloat as the pandemic rages on but has not met the full need. Survey respondents say that grants have covered only 35% of their costs.
“If the city’s priority is to get parents back to work, then financial relief to child care programs must be significantly greater,” said Kimberly Perry, DC Action for Children’s Executive Director. “The sector is experiencing a loss of nearly $5.6 million per month and needs at least $60 million in relief to ensure stabilization throughout the pandemic. Parents need to know they have safe, affordable child care when they are ready to return to work. ”
Mayor Bowser has the power to direct other types of available funding to support child care businesses. The survey responses make it clear that DC’s early learning business owners stand ready to work alongside the mayor to develop more options.
DC Action for Children is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and advocacy organization dedicated to using data, public policy, and partnerships with a lens toward race equity to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. DC Action produces the primary source of data on conditions and outcomes for child and youth well-being with the DC Kids Count 2020 Data Book.