This blog was co-authored by Senior Policy Analyst Alex Camardelle
- Georgia’s child care system is fiscally fragile, and many providers are forced to close due to the COVID-19-induced recession.
- State and federal policy responses help meet the immediate crisis, but Georgia’s providers and parents will need long-term assistance as well.
- Georgia’s economic recovery will be slowed if the child care system is not adequately supported, because workers and those searching for work need child care support.
Child care must be a front-and-center issue as we grapple with the short- and long-term effects of COVID-19 in Georgia. Widespread school and child care closures have created an immediate crisis for parents who do not have the option to work at home—including those working in health care, people employed in grocery stores and other essential jobs. Child care providers who are keeping their doors open during this time also need assistance with safety and sanitation to ensure workers and families are healthy.
The inevitable recession resulting from the pandemic response will likely leave working parents desperate for affordable child care. Child care closures will destabilize families who depend on child care workers—who are often women of color, live paycheck-to-paycheck and likely lack paid leave. Many child care programs already operate on very thin margins and risk permanent closures if parents are unable to pay their child care bills.
State Policy Responses to Date (April 6, 2020)
Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) acted swiftly to start protecting working families and providers who rely on child care during the COVID-19 response period by:
- Suspending work activity requirements for families with low-incomes receiving child care subsidies through the Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) program;
- Establishing a child care provider referral system for essential service workers;
- Allowing providers to continue billing the state for CAPS families even though the child may not currently be in their care;
- Establishing a direct support hotline for employers seeking child care options for 25 or more staff;
- Limiting programs to a maximum of ten children and staff in a classroom;
- Screening all children, staff and families for fevers and other symptoms before entering facilities; and
- Creating a new priority group via CAPS, the Essential Services Workforce Priority Group, to help first responders, childcare personnel and health care professionals with low incomes access care.
Federal Policy Response to Date (April 6, 2020)
The CARES Act includes $3.5 billion in emergency funding to support child care through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which states can use to begin to address critical child care needs. An estimated $141 million flow to Georgia. The bill allows states to use this funding to:
- Continue payments and assistance to child care providers in the case of decreased enrollment or closures related to coronavirus and to ensure they are able to remain open or reopen as appropriate;
- Target child care assistance, without regard to income, to workers in the health care sector, emergency responders, food service workers and other workers deemed essential during the response to the coronavirus; and
- Provide funding to child care providers for the purposes of cleaning and sanitation and other activities necessary to maintain or resume the operation of programs.
Additional provisions related to small business loans and unemployment assistance may also help child care providers forced to close or with few or no children during this time. For example, the CARES Act establishes an unemployment assistance program for self-employed individuals and independent contractors who typically do not qualify for regular state unemployment insurance. Finally, the US Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service approved child care providers participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to allow parents and guardians to pick up meals and snacks for their children from facilities.
More Opportunities to Sustain Child Care Providers and Families
This pandemic represents a crisis for families, child care centers and family care homes. Child care providers are private businesses incompatible with social distancing, yet they are necessary for many essential workers to continue their roles. The $141 million in emergency funding is a start, but it is insufficient for the scope and expected duration of the crisis. For perspective, federal funding for Georgia’s child care assistance program totaled about $301 million in the 2019 fiscal year. That amount, coupled with state dollars, only serves an estimated one in seven children who would likely qualify.
As directed by the CARES Act, short-term funding should be prioritized to provide services for essential employees that must work outside the home and do not otherwise have child care. In addition to doctors and nurses, many essential workers are low-wage earners in general sanitation, food services, grocery retail and other sectors and may not have other caregivers available in the household. Georgia should include these workers in the recently-added CAPS priority group for essential services workers. The state can also use federal funds to strengthen its referral system and create an accessible critical child care network for those essential workers.
In the long-term, child care providers must be sustained so they can reopen quickly after the immediate crisis has passed. If child care providers close for good, the rest of the workforce will lack the vital support needed to return to work after social distancing ends. A weakened network of child care providers will slow down the economic recovery. Only 30 percent of child care providers surveyed could survive a two-week closure without support, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Last, the state must anticipate and fill a greater need for child care subsidies after the pandemic has been contained and people begin to return to the workforce. Child care assistance as a work support is an investment that pays off. Supporting parents to fully participate in the economy will help Georgia recover more quickly when the economy begins to restart.
Now more than ever, all human services agencies, including DECAL, should prepare to assist or refer families and providers to all supports available to them—including health care, food assistance, small business and unemployment assistance. The economic well-being of low-income families who lack a strong safety net are the most threatened. Many times, low-income parents and child care providers are one and the same.