Across the country, governors are leading the response to the coronavirus crisis. For most governors, that response includes taking initial steps to provide child care for essential workers and stabilize the child care industry so that providers can reopen. Prior to the pandemic, providers operated on razor-thin margins, and many communities lacked an adequate supply of licensed child care options. With decreased enrollment and prolonged closures, many providers will close their doors permanently, leaving parents without child care options. These five governors are examples of how state leadership can intervene to prevent massive child care closures. However, long-term industry stabilization will require federal investment.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), California
On April 10, Gov. Newsom announced that $100 million of a $1 billion state spending bill will support the immediate child care needs of essential workers in California. Of this, $50 million will create 20,000 limited-term, state-subsidized child care slots that will fully cover the cost of child care for children of essential workers and children with risk factors. The other $50 million will reimburse child care providers for health and safety expenses, including cleaning supplies, gloves, and masks. Newsom will also pay child care subsidies and copayments to closed providers.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), New Mexico
As part of Gov. Lujan Grisham’s plan to support New Mexicans during the pandemic, she allowed child care workers and immediate household members who contract COVID-19 to enroll in the New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool (NMMIP) if they are uninsured, providing comprehensive health coverage until they have fully recovered. While this program typically requires participants to pay a premium, the governor waived premium payments for child care workers regardless of income or immigration status. Nationally, only two-thirds of the child care workforce have health insurance, leaving some child care workers who continue to serve essential personnel not only at higher risk of infection but also at higher financial risk should they contract the virus and need medical attention. Lujan Grisham’s child care plan also includes additional financial assistance to support providers who remain open for essential workers; continues to pay child care subsidies and parent copayments to providers who have closed; and direct payments of $700 for full-time and $350 for part-time child care workers per month to incentivize continued care for children of essential workers during the pandemic.
Gov. Roy Cooper (D), North Carolina
North Carolina Gov. Cooper committed to providing bonus payments directly to full-time child care workers, recognizing the additional work required of child care providers and the increased risk associated with caring for the children of other frontline workers. Full-time teaching staff will receive $950 per month and nonteaching staff will receive $525 per month in both child care centers and family child care homes, with adjusted rates for part-time staff. Providers will also receive funding to cover administrative costs associated with these bonuses. Cooper’s plan also provides emergency child care financial aid to essential workers who fall within 300 percent of the federal poverty line and ensures that the state will continue to pay child care subsidies and parent copayments until providers reopen.
Gov. Phil Scott (R), Vermont
In Vermont, Gov. Scott created a fund to provide child care for essential workers and ensure that child care providers can pay their bills—including employee wages, rent, and utilities—during the pandemic. Using a combination of state and federal funding, the fund replaces the revenue that child care providers normally receive from families and publicly funded child care subsidies. This dedicated child care stabilization fund ensures that when the economy reopens, parents will have the child care they relied on before the pandemic. Launched in early April, the program covers 50 percent of a family’s weekly tuition or subsidy copayment and continues to pay child care subsidies. If a family cannot afford their remaining portion of the payment, they can work with their provider to pay an alternative amount. However, the family may lose their child care slot if an alternative payment plan is not feasible, and the child care provider can apply to the state for additional assistance to cover lost tuition. Given limited resources, Scott’s plan attempts to keep providers afloat until they can reopen, but additional resources are necessary to fully address the long-term financial implications of extended child care closures and ensure low-income families are not shut out.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D), Virginia
Gov. Northam was one of the first to announce a plan for how he intends to use the $70 million in federal funding allocated to Virginia for child care in the CARES Act. The plan includes payments for providers who remain open to serve children of essential workers to help offset the increased cost associated with health and safety measures during the pandemic. Northam’s plan also commits to continued administration of the child care subsidy program so that child care providers that accept subsidies receive payment. The plan also removes the requirement that families pay a copayment toward child care while many are facing economic hardship and not able to use child care. Northam’s commitment to addressing child care needs provides some relief in the short term, but significant increased federal investment is necessary to stabilize providers across the state.
Long before the coronavirus crisis, child care was precariously underresourced. Parents struggled to pay mounting child care bills, while early educators made poverty wages and went without benefits such as health insurance, which most other workers receive. The pandemic exposed both the fragility of the child care industry and just how essential child care workers are to the economy. Governors have made important steps on policies such as increased compensation, providing health insurance, and reducing costs for parents to stabilize the industry in the short-term. But these are short-term responses that cannot be sustained for the duration of the pandemic—let alone for the months of economic recovery that we have ahead. While these responses provide some supports, significant increased federal investment is necessary to adequately address the scope of this crisis for the child care industry.
MK Falgout is the special assistant for early childhood policy at the Center for American Progress. Katie Hamm is the vice president for early childhood policy at American Progress.
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