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Federal Funding could help looming workforce shortage crisis in child care

In mid-March, Congress passed the American Recovery Act (ARA). The legislation was the latest in a string of COVID relief bills intended to assist families, businesses, and communities through the pandemic. The Act set aside $39 billion to help the child care system which has struggled to remain afloat for the past year. The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) recently released its estimates for how much child care funding will come to each state to help the damaged child care system. Arizona’s share is expected to be just under $1 billion. The full estimates are included HERE.

This funding comes just in time to address a growing crisis in the child care workforce as 1 in 6 jobs in the child care sector have been lost during the pandemic. Despite increased signs of returning to a new normal, the staff who previously filled those jobs are not coming back. Child care providers must meet expanded health and safety requirements including strict student/teacher ratios. Even if they have the physical space to serve more children in their programs, they often do not have the staff to provide the care. Desperate parents returning to their previous work settings do not have the same options for child care that they had before. There was an existing shortage of child care workers prior to the pandemic. Child care workers are largely underpaid and undervalued. In 2018, typical annual wages for a woman working full time, year-round in the child care industry were $29,900 per year as 1 in 10 child care workers had incomes below the federal poverty line and twice the poverty rate for workers overall. As programs begin to reopen, many former workers are choosing to return to jobs with higher wages, fewer requirements, and with less risk for contracting COVID.

Ronnie Armstrong, executive director for Children's Campus and Premier Children's Center has provided child care in the Valley for nearly 35 years says, “The pandemic has accentuated the problems in an already broken child care system. Families are returning to work and our enrollments are growing every day. We do not have the quality, committed staff to meet the needs of families. The child care industry is in a hiring crisis which seems absurd considering the rate of unemployment in our country. We desperately need quality, committed staff to meet the needs of the children and families in our community.”

The Arizona Early Childhood Alliance (AZECA) is working collaboratively with DES to bring together stakeholders to make recommendations on how the state should spend the new federal ARA funds. Those recommendations will undoubtedly include ways to incentivize workers to return and remain in the child care workforce. We encourage the Governor and the Department to take these recommendations to heart and release the funds as soon as possible to avert this looming crisis.

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