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Millions of parents face child care dilemma if federal aid ends

GREENBELT, Md. — It’s barely 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, but the day at Greenway Learning Center is well underway. Story time ended, jelly sandwiches were eaten, and the children were divided into preschoolers and “twos,” with the infants in another room. While preschoolers review their numbers, 2-year-olds play with brightly colored blocks.

Ashleigh Proctor, who works nearby as a facilities manager, came to see her son, Ahmad, who has been attending the center since he was 8 months old. Proctor said being around teachers and other children helped his development and the center became a family.

But she doesn’t know how long Ahmad will be able to stay. Proctor is among millions of families who received help paying for child care costs thanks to $24 billion in pandemic funding passed by Congress in 2021. The funding is set to expire on September 30 and the Century Foundation estimates that 3.2 million children in the United States will lose their place in child care.

“The scholarship helped a lot. Without the scholarship, I don’t think he’ll be in daycare. He’ll probably be at home because that’s probably the most feasible option,” Proctor told CNBC earlier this month. “But the growth here has been good for him.”

Although most businesses hit by the pandemic have bounced back, child care has not. An estimated 65,000 jobs in the child care industry were lost between February 2020 and August 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And others are at risk of closing if funding ends. The Century Foundation estimates that 70,000 child care centers will close without funding, resulting in a loss of $10.6 billion in taxes and business revenue.

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Standing next to a giant dollhouse and shelves filled with books, Patti Smith, director of the Greenway Learning Center, said funding during the pandemic was a “lifeline” but the economics of Child care was “broken” long before. Child care teachers must obtain specific degrees and certifications, but are paid less than jobs that only require a high school diploma.

“If you raise tuition to pay your staff what they’re worth, parents won’t be able to afford it,” Smith said. “It’s really a no-win situation.”

Smith said about a quarter of Greenway’s children receive help through scholarships. If their parents cannot cover the school fees themselves, she will not be able to offer their children a place.

“We are concerned that children will be placed in unregulated child care or their parents will leave the workforce, which is not at all good for the economy,” she said. “If we don’t get to full enrollment in the classrooms, then I’m going to have to let the teachers go and I don’t want to do that. And I certainly don’t want to turn the kids away.”

A group of Democratic lawmakers are seeking to secure $16 billion in funding for child care before the end of the month, but time is running out. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), who is helping lead the effort in the House, said she hopes to tie the funding to an emergency $44 billion supplemental request from the White House, which currently includes a funding for Ukraine and disaster relief. for Maui, among others.

“The emergency supplement is for emergencies,” Bonamici said. “And if this funding ends and children across the country lose their place in child care, it will be an emergency because people will not be able to go to work if there is no safe place for their child.”

This additional funding seems unlikely as Republicans push to reduce federal spending. Two key groups of House Republicans are pushing for an 8 percent cut to domestic discretionary programs not related to the military or veterans. Even items requested by the White House, such as aid to Ukraine, face opposition from some Republicans.


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