Testimony to DC Council on Child Care Subsidies | Ronald Jarrett, Coalition Director, Under 3 DC
Racism defines almost every aspect of society. We have seen how generations of inequality have resulted in a nation struggling to maintain a civil society today. The time has come to let go of outmoded paradigms, protocols, and biases in all of our social systems. This starts by acknowledging that our child care system does not yet provide justice for our Black and Brown educators and little ones. This acknowledgement must also include fully investing now in our child care system which is crucial to rebuilding and progressing toward a more equitable and thriving city.
U3DC is a coalition of more than 40 organizations committed to the belief that all children deserve a strong beginning and a limitless future. U3DC harnesses the voices and power of parents with young children, educators, and others to create transformative social change. Our efforts center on the people experiencing racial and economic injustice every day. We shine a spotlight on the need for more public investments to support families with infants and toddlers. Thus setting the city on a path to creating and sustaining a high quality, equitable early childhood system.
Therefore, we thank the Council for holding harmless the current budget for child care subsidies at $88 million. However, given the impact that Covid-19 has had on our child care system, we respectfully request a budget enhancement of $10 million to preserve the system’s financial viability as providers implement pandemic-related public health measures. These measures include more staffing and reduced class sizes to meet safety and social distancing guidelines.
We also respectfully request a $10 million supplemental budget appropriation for FY 20 to mitigate the devastating impact that Covid-19 has had on our District’s non-subsidized providers.
Before the pandemic hit, there were only enough child care seats for one out of every three children under the age of three in DC. Now that many providers are struggling to stay open and pay for their facilities and staff costs, there is a real risk of losing child care availability as a result of this pandemic.
Virtually all care providers in DC - centers, home based providers, those in the informal care economy, providers who participate in the subsidy program and those who do not - are asking hard questions about whether they will be able to survive the impact of the pandemic, and if so, how. Some key findings from a recent survey of 106 local care providers found that:
- Child care providers are not being reached by COVID-19 public financial supports
Only 2 out of 106 child care centers surveyed received a DC Small Business Microgrant.
Only 25% of survey respondents were approved for a Payment Protection Program loan.
- Providers have incurred financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 crisis
The majority of respondents said that fewer than 25% of families who typically pay for child care without assistance are able to continue paying right now.
Of those receiving payments from families, the majority are accepting reduced payments
80% of respondents have lost significant revenue as a result of this pandemic.
- Providers are concerned about the cost (and other elements) of reopening:
90% of providers projected that they will incur additional costs upon reopening
70% concerned about having to reduce enrollment
60% concerned about having insufficient revenue
Without dedicated public funding support, D.C. may lose more than 6,500 early learning seats (20% of our already too limited supply) from COVID-19, limiting access to licensed child care for families with infants and toddlers and widening the opportunity gaps for our lowest income families further.
- The benefits of a high-quality early childhood education last a lifetime. Yet today, a family’s zip code, race, and income often limit the opportunities of our youngest residents. Allowing this pandemic to create further educational disparities and barriers for our lowest income families is simply unacceptable; instead, their needs must be prioritized.
- Early childhood education programs lack access to stable, consistent public dollars to support our youngest learners, which is why they are more at risk for permanent closure compared to other educational institutions. If, as DC residents return to work, fewer licensed child care programs exist in an already tapped-out sector, unlicensed care may become the more affordable and available option.
The Under 3 DC Coalition knows that having low income - or having lost a job during the public health emergency - is NOT a character flaw. Simply because you can’t afford more doesn’t mean you don’t deserve better. Budgets are opportunities to level the playing field and make sure all DC residents have resources and services sufficient to meet their needs.
Projected municipal revenue losses are scary things. But our knee-jerk reaction to reach for programmatic cuts has been proven by history to be short-sighted and ultimately contributes to larger problems soon after. We can choose to lessen the harm of this pandemic by looking to new revenue opportunities to meet the city’s needs and better protect us from future crises.
- During an economic downturn, leading economists favor targeted tax increases—which don’t hurt the economy or low-income families—over spending cuts, which do.
- Cutting vital programs will worsen the economy’s fall, hurt families that are struggling to stay afloat, and jeopardize the District’s ability to make a full or just recovery.
We say “we’re all in this together,” yet our tax policies tell a different story. By asking DC’s richest households, giant corporations, and real estate developers to pay their fair share, we will have more revenue to address budget shortfalls and provide targeted recovery support to those individuals and local businesses that have been hardest hit.
Raising high-end tax rates would help tackle the shortfall and correct massive, long-standing inequities in our tax code. A teacher earning $60,000 pays the same income tax rate as a CEO earning $350,000. Worse, that teacher’s tax rate is only half of a percentage point less than what a multinational developer earning over $1 million pays! That’s fundamentally unjust, and it’s bad economic policy.
We cannot finance early childhood health and education needs on the backs of program cuts for essential services on which families rely (housing, food access, ending homelessness, paid family leave, and more). A more equitable and just approach would be to meet our budget requests through a combination of better oversight on spending, scaling back tax giveaways, AND raising revenue.
To make it through the crisis and build a just recovery, it is important for DC’s response to preserve and build upon crucial investments in early childhood education. New revenue options must be part of the solution to ensure those who are already suffering the most from this pandemic are not further hurt by budget cuts to critical programs. To do otherwise ignores the wisdom gained during this incredibly challenging, yet not improbable, time in our human history.