State Lawmakers Must Act Soon to Save the Child Care Sector
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis is threatening to put the majority of Arizona’s child care providers out of business. Approximately 50 percent of programs across the state are at least temporarily closed. Centers that are open serve considerably less children than before the crisis. A recent survey of Arizona providers showed that the number of children attending most programs has been cut in half. These programs may be serving less children, due to the health and safety guidelines put forth by state and local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Child care provider costs have significantly increased. Another recent survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) showed that only 18 percent of child care programs expect that they will survive longer than a year if they continue to have reduced enrollment.
Some financial supports have been put in place for certain providers, including continued DES Child Care Assistance and Quality First scholarship payments, but these resources only replace a small percentage of most providers’ income. Additionally, these payments haven’t benefitted providers who operate private-pay only business models. Everyone agrees that Arizona’s economy cannot recover from the devastating impacts of COVID-19 without affordable child care. Parents cannot go back to work, attend school, or participate in job training programs if their children are not safe and cared for.
Arizona received $88 million in CARES Act funding from the federal government to address just this issue. We believe it is imperative for the Governor and DES to not only continue the Enrichment Centers and the DES Child Care Assistance payment program until the crisis has passed, but to also immediately implement a grant program to assist all licensed and regulated child care providers to cover some of their operational costs until the state can fully and safely return to business as usual. These grants should allow providers the flexibility to use funds to cover the costs of increased staffing, teacher salaries, sanitation and personal protective equipment, and other needs related to safely caring for children during the pandemic. We must take steps to help ensure that the child care infrastructure remains intact so that it is there when parents need it.