Guest Commentary: Child care essential for strong economy

The COVID-19 public health crisis has created unforeseen and unprecedented challenges for our nation. While the country is beginning to re-open and lift restrictions, significant issues still remain. Americans will feel the devastating impact of the pandemic for years to come unless we intervene. We know that the virus hit New York hard, but our state can also be an example of strength in the face of adversity.

To build that strength, a key factor in reopening and rebuilding our economy post-COVID is additional federal support for child care. Working parents across the state depend on affordable, high-quality child care to return to their usual jobs. Many center-based and home-based child care providers are unable to conduct their normal operations due to the additional cost and safety measures associated with the pandemic. The child care providers that are able to open will require enrollment caps to ensure compliance with new social-distancing requirements, leaving many families without access to care.

Parents without access to child care may be forced to make the difficult decision to cut back their work hours or leave the workforce altogether. This dilemma leaves families and businesses below full strength in an already precarious economy. Child care is not only an essential service for working parents, but an essential component of the small business economy.

As the president of the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce, I have heard concerns from countless business leaders about the lack of child care for employees. I am proud to be a dedicated advocate for small business in my community, and I know firsthand that, without the child care sector, most of which are small businesses themselves, the state and national economy are at major risk of decline.

A report by ReadyNation found that 86 percent of parents were negatively impacted at work by a lack of reliable child care for their children younger than 3. The same report showed that the infant-and-toddler child care crisis costs the U.S. economy $57 billion each year, including an estimated $4.56 billion in costs to New York state. These alarming findings will only get worse without intervention from our legislators.

Child care is also a long-term investment in our nation’s youth. High-quality child care provides a safe, healthy environment for infant-and-toddler brain development that can set the stage for future success. If left unchecked, the impact of the child care crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic, will follow us for decades.

But this is not a hopeless situation. New Yorkers are resilient. One of the best ways we can preserve our child care sector and our economy is by urging our lawmakers to designate specific child care stabilization funding in any future COVID-19 relief. A stabilization fund will allow more centers and home-based providers to reopen, therefore allowing more parents to return to work.

The funding in the CARES Act was an excellent first step, but there is still more work to be done. State leaders should allocate remaining CARES Act funds for grants to licensed and registered child care providers. The additional staff training, sanitization measures, and the increased per-child costs as a result of enrollment caps required to maintain social distancing requirements are all necessary for providers to best serve their communities. And they will require increased resources from the state and federal government.

In order to preserve our workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, we must support our children, parents, and businesses by investing now in stabilizing the child care sector.

Barbara Ann Heegan is the president of the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce and a member of ReadyNation. She lives in Oneonta.

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