Pennsylvania Families Face a Child Care Crisis, Sen. Bob Casey is Trying to Help.

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By Keya Vakil

June 27, 2023

A new analysis published last week found that unless Congress provides additional funding, an estimated 152,048 children in Pennsylvania are expected to lose their child care beginning Sept. 30, due to the projected closure of 2,848 child care programs.

Pennsylvania families have taken it on the chin the past few years; first with the COVID-19 pandemic, school closures, and uncertainty over economic life; and more recently, with rising costs and lack of affordable child care.

While the rate of inflation has finally begun to ease in recent months, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey and fellow Democrats are warning that the child care crisis could soon get worse—unless Congress acts.

Casey and several other senators urged lawmakers last week to provide new child care funding ahead of a coming “funding cliff” that could ultimately force thousands of Pennsylvania’s child care programs to close.

That possibility—outlined in a new report by The Century Foundation (TCF)—could result in an estimated 152,048 children in Pennsylvania losing their child care beginning Sept. 30, due to the projected closure of 2,848 child care programs.

The child care sector has been in crisis for years, but in March 2021, the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a law that provided states nearly $24 billion in emergency funding to help child care providers stay open and prevent a total collapse of the sector, and another $15 billion to help families afford care.

A US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) analysis found that those funds flowed to 220,000 child care providers, helping them pay their rent, mortgage, utilities, and boost wages. The funds helped save the jobs of more than 1 million child care workers, and enabled continued care for as many as 9.6 million kids across the country, according to the HHS report.

But those funds are set to expire in September, and when they do, the sector will be “starved of resources,” according to TCF’s report, and providers will have to increase prices in order to stay open and retain workers—or risk going out of business. In either scenario, families will be left with fewer affordable options.

In Pennsylvania, for example, data from the US Department of Labor shows that the average yearly cost for infant care at a childcare center range from about $8,000 on the low end in areas like Bedford and Somerset Counties to more than double that in the Philadelphia suburbs. The cost for toddlers and preschool aged children is slightly lower, but still can run well over $10,000 annually.

Those numbers could surge even higher, without new federal funding.

It isn’t just the affected children and families that would suffer, either, but employers, communities, and the commonwealth as a whole. Families who can’t afford the higher costs could be forced to cut back on hours or leave the workforce altogether in order to provide care for their kids.

According to TCF’s analysis, Pennsylvania parents would lose an estimated $412 million in earnings as a result of having to reduce their hours or leave the workforce. As a result, employer productivity would decline sharply, costing the state $480 million in economic activity and $10 million in income tax revenues.

More than 11,000 child care workers in the commonwealth would also lose their jobs.

To prevent this disaster, Casey and fellow Sens. Patty Murray (D-Washington), Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) have reintroduced the Child Care for Working Families Act, a bill that would provide crucial federal funding to help stabilize the child care sector.

Under the bill, most families would pay $10 a day or less for child care, and no eligible family will pay more than 7% of their income on child care. The average family would save $5,000 per year on child care costs if the bill were to become law, according to one analysis.

The legislation would also provide subsidies to providers to ensure child care workers are paid a living wage and reach parity with elementary school teachers who have similar credentials and experience. It would also increase access to Pre-K and full-day, full-year Head Start programs and boost wages for Head Start workers, and provide funding for states to expand universal local preschool programs.

“Everywhere I go in Pennsylvania, I meet families who are struggling to find reliable child care or affordable preschool and feel like they’re on their own,” Casey said in a statement. “While the American Rescue Plan provided thousands of Pennsylvania families with a bridge to help them afford child care during the pandemic, we need a long-term, permanent solution for every working family in the Commonwealth. That’s why I’m going to keep pushing to pass the Child Care for Working Families Act; it’s good for children, for families, and for the economy.”

It’s not just lawmakers who are worried about what might happen once the federal funds run out in September.

A Morning Consult poll conducted in June on behalf of the Century Foundation found that 64% of Americans are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the looming child care cliff.

That poll also found that 54% of parents who regularly pay for child care say that it would take them longer than one month to find a suitable alternative if their current program were to close.

Casey and his fellow senators reintroduced the Child Care for Working Families Act in April, but the bill has yet to advance. A House version of the bill also remains in limbo, with less than 100 days to go until the ARPA funds lapse and potentially hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania families lose their child care.

Author

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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