Pandemic Decisions &Historical Budget Surplus Fails to Support Long-Term Child Care Needs
As this week begins, budget hearings start that will go into more detail of pandemic impacts to California's child care system and exploring needed future investments. However, where are the hearings where the real crisis of child care is being discussed with real budget impacts and meaningful plans to make outcomes real?
Starting tomorrow, the hearings are going to cover impacts from the pandemic, the Governor's budget proposals and some recommendations from the field. But there is something glaringly missing. Where is the hearing on making good on the promises made last year? Where is the hearing recognizing that the child care workforce is critical? Where is the hearing where the real needs of working families are addressed and not pitted against giving more funding to school districts?
Let's breakdown what has been promised to working families and family child care providers and centers, and where there is failure.
Beginning with the 2021 Budget Act was a multi-year commitment to invest in 200,000 new child care slots by 2025-26 for the lowest income families to access. Of the 200,000 new slots, 110,500 have already been released with another 36,000 pending in the 2022 budget year. Of the 110, 500 they were mainly divided between 62,620 for child care vouchers and 46,080 for general child care. The community partners that support the subsidized child care vouchers, those that have been ravaged during the pandemic were provided towards the end of 2021, their number of new slots to enroll. Nearly across the board, these new slots more than doubled their existing subsidized child care slot contracts.
However, not one new dollar was provided to these community partners to ramp up to take on the enrollment of these new slots. Further, during the pandemic, these community based mainly nonprofits had to shift their staff including case managers and enrollment specialists to remote workspaces, secure new computers and infrastructure required to continue being available and serving families, continue issuing reimbursements to providers, and support their own staff who were also impacted by COVID but not provided one new dollar to do so. Adding insult to injury these community partners who were classified as "essential" had to take out lines of credit and had to be available to provide more child care vouchers to workers Governor Newsom deemed as essential. While many businesses and schools were closed, these community partners stayed open.
The above is what there should be a hearing. Surely, Governor Newsom understands that you cannot simply fund $734 million in new child care slots and simply snap your fingers that babies and children will magically be sitting in those new slots. There has been no thought or attention paid to the process of enrolling the families and then supporting families with access to care.
In regard to the private market child care workforce, again total avoidance of doing anything meaningful to increase the early care and learning providers. The expansion of TK or UPK or whatever the acronym of the day is has monies being thrown at school districts just to prepare for the expansion. And just to make sure the school districts had more than ample amount, there were monies taken out of the state's General Fund and moved to the schools. However, for the private family child care providers and centers that received an increase in their reimbursement rates on January 1, their increase was actually a decrease as it was based on January 2017 data; it was outdated before it was even enacted. Nearly a third of the private pay child care centers that support subsidized families did not receive any increase and have not seen an increase since 2016. For family child care providers, they too cannot celebrate this increase that still takes them to between $5.50 - $10.50 per hour. This should be a hearing.
Governor Newsom and legislators are at a tipping point of decimating California's subsidized child care system. There is a surplus of over $45 billion, and yet not one new dollar is being invested to build child care capacity and access. Something is wrong, very wrong.