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Opinion: Investments in child care are key to economic recovery

As a CEO, I often speak about how important a strong foundation is to the success of a business —strategy, resources, and, above all else, a talented workforce. The same principle of laying a solid foundation is true as we think about how to best prepare young people to reach their potential in life. Without a strong foundation of high-quality care and education, our nation’s young people will not be prepared to succeed.

That’s why we need to make smart investments in supports that provide short- and long-term benefits for our youngest learners. High-quality child care can help children develop academically and socially in ways that have lasting effects — including helping them graduate from high school on time, giving them the tools that they need to be part of the skilled workforce of the future, and putting them on a path to lifelong success.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased urgency around child care. Not only are child care providers still needed to provide important care for working parents who are essential and front-line personnel, but these providers are also buckling under the strain of diminished enrollments caused by massive, short-term unemployment and dramatically increased work-from-home arrangements. The end result is that, once America is fully ready to go back to work, the child care infrastructure it needs may no longer exist.  

We must act now in order to preserve this important source of early childhood development.

To make matters worse, the country was already in the midst of an infant and toddler child care crisis even before COVID-19 struck. We suffer from a lack of affordable, high-quality child care, including home-based care, that can leave parents scrambling to find suitable care options for their young children while compromising their own careers in the process. As a recent report from the business-leader group ReadyNation revealed, this child care crisis costs our country $57 billion per year.

Already facing two serious problems, and with more children poised to lose access to the potential positive outcomes from high-quality child care, it’s clear why providers need specific economic relief in order to sustain and stabilize it in the near-term. There are several measures Congress should undertake in order to preserve and strengthen this crucial sector.

Lawmakers should ensure that child care providers who are closed have access to funding — including direct grants — that will allow them to cover costs such as payroll, rent, or mortgages until states fully reopen. Providers who are open (or will soon re-open) and are serving fewer children and families for safety and health reasons should also get additional, short-term financial operational support, including grants or forgivable loans.

It’s also important to remember that providers that do re-open will face new, significant costs associated with added safety measures. These expenses will include things like purchasing protective equipment, additional sanitation supplies, and so on. That’s why Congress should also provide specific financial assistance for these types of new costs. That assistance will help providers keep the families they serve safe after reopening. As we learned with the CARES Act support, the Child Care Development Block Grant can also serve as a mechanism to help get funds quickly to child care providers that need it most.

Our state and our nation will need to preserve the child care sector in order for our economy to bounce back. More than that, high-quality early care can be a core part of a young child being put on a path toward educational and life success. To give our youngest learners the best possible start, and to help make our workforce stronger over the long haul, lawmakers should protect and strengthen this vital source of support for working families.