The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the child care sector in Virginia. Our policymakers must take measures to stabilize the sector and ensure children have safe and nurturing care when parents return to work. One year after the beginning of the pandemic, 90% of regulated child care facilities have reopened in Virginia and leaders have taken positive steps to help stabilize the sector. Congress has provided billions in child care relief, including more than $1 billion to Virginia’s child care sector. State lawmakers have improved eligibility criteria so that more families can benefit and they have passed legislation to change how we pay for child care in the future—through contracts to guarantee availability and income, and to evaluate paying by true costs instead of market rates.
These are positive steps, but they are taken on shaky ground. The child care sector is not stable. There are continued shifts in parent preferences and waves in labor force participation. Young children are still a long way from being eligible for vaccines and child care providers rely on continuing COVID-19 precautions and avoiding potential risks for students and staff for the foreseeable future. Workforce shortages are being reported where early childhood educators are hard to find, especially when the pay at less risky work environments (Amazon, retail, food service) is much better.
This month’s opportunity to comment on the Child Care Development Fund State Plan allows advocates to weigh in on what is needed to stabilize the child care sector and how to use state and federal funds. The state plan document creates the framework for how Virginia spends Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) dollars. In this case, the plan will direct how $305 million in child care funds and $488 million in child care stabilization funds from the American Rescue Plan are spent over the next three years.
As in the past, Voices will submit comments on the state plan framework. This year, we are focused on how these funds can be spent to stabilize the sector and promote an equitable recovery with a focus on the child care workforce. Our comments will ask the state leaders to take these steps:
With child care plans under review in other states, several have taken approaches to dedicate a portion of funds to compensation. Initial plans from Connecticut signaled formula grants using stabilization funds and compensation add-ons would be available. And several states (New Mexico, North Carolina and Washington) have used previous federal relief funds to provide bonus payments. We are also asking state leaders to: