Air travel has now surpassed pre-pandemic levels. Resorts and hotels are teeming with customers again. Indeed, many parts of our economy are not just returning to normal, they are overwhelmed with success.
Except the part of the economy I invest in: early childhood education.
Eight years ago I started a child care program in Freeport, New York. We are proud of our educators, who have not only earned the title of Child Development Associate, but have proven they understand how to foster the emotional, physical, intellectual and social development of children.
Early in the pandemic, the federal government realized that stabilizing the early childhood sector was key to seeing the country rebound. Yet when child care programs like mine finally received subsidies late last year, it increased the amount of our taxable income. This caused financial headaches throughout the industry.
We are grateful that the state has given a significant boost to providers like me whose students include families eligible for public assistance. Yet there has been no new funding to cover rising food and supply costs or minimum wage increases. And our insurance policies have now doubled.
It was already difficult to continue as a viable business – our profit margins were so thin that we couldn’t even offer employee benefits, let alone expand our services. Today, with rising inflation and human resource issues, our business is in jeopardy.
Many programs like ours on Long Island have already dropped out. I know of at least 20 that have closed due to financial burdens since the start of the pandemic. And with each closure, a number of families scramble to find childcare, with children denied the opportunity to learn and grow in quality settings.
Our elected leaders in Washington, DC have an opportunity to fix the situation. There is an effort to put strong and increased funding into the existing federal child care program – the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program – which would quickly get funding for all 50 states and territories, would strengthen the early learning workforce, expand the supply of quality child care facilities, and reduce child care costs for families across the country.
The CCDBG program has served millions of children and families for decades. However, due to insufficient funding levels, the CCDBG currently only reaches 11% of income-eligible young children and does not adequately reimburse providers.
Negotiations continue on Capitol Hill, and we in the early years sector are optimistic that our lawmakers can find common ground. On this issue, which enjoys bipartisan support, there is reason to hope.
It is absolutely essential for my community that this funding be increased. Parents on Long Island — and, I’m sure, across the country — can’t go back to work until they find a child care solution for their children. And for so many parents and caregivers, with program closures, staffing shortages and exorbitant costs, it’s an almost impossible task as it stands.
During the worst months of the pandemic, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other leaders in Washington donated $50 billion of our tax dollars to the top 10 passenger airlines in the United States to help pay the salaries of 750,000 air transport professionals. These funds were justified, Congress argued, because they would prevent airlines from going bankrupt. And yes, in this case, Congress did the right thing, as evidenced by the success the travel industry is once again enjoying.
Now is the time for Congress to take a similar step for our early childhood educators, before it’s too late.