America is in a child care crisis.
“I see a lot of parents break down in here,” said Deloris “Nunu” Hogan, owner of Dee’s Tots, a 24-hour daycare center in New Rochelle, New York. “They don’t want to do this, but they have to go to work and pay their bills. This is the way the world is at the current moment.”
Nunu and her husband Patrick “Pop-Pop” Hogan are the subject of a new documentary by filmmaker Loria Limbal called Through the Night. The film follows three working mothers whose lives intersect at Dee’s Tots. Limbal first learned about Dee’s Tots through an article she read years ago. The stories of these struggling families reminded her of her own mother, who worked the night shift making minimum wage while raising four children. The film is a love letter to those who are expected to work as if they are not a mother, and mother as if they don’t work.
President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which is currently making its way through Congress, addresses many of the issues surrounding child care that Through the Night brings to light.
If passed in its current form, the bill would allocate $50 billion in federal relief for child care. This includes $25 billion for emergency stabilization funds to cover the costs of rent, utilities, and payroll, so child care providers like Dee’s Tots can make it through to the end of the pandemic.
With both the virus and subsequent economic crisis, daycares and other child care providers have seen their revenues plummet due to lack of enrollment and their costs driven up by social distancing and cleaning requirements.
According to a survey of child care providers conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children at the height of the pandemic, 50 percent of minority-owned child care programs are certain they will have to close without the public assistance needed to stay open. Upwards of 70 percent of child care centers are incurring substantial, additional costs for cleaning supplies and protective equipment in order to stay open.
“I need some sort of stop gap measure or I will be forced to close my doors, which does not benefit this rebuilding process,” noted a survey respondent in Ohio, where a quarter of child care facilities are at risk of closing by early 2021. “I cannot personally continue to operate this way. I need someone to understand this and help.”
The Covid package would also provide $15 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, which states can use to improve their own care economies by providing subsidies to families and boosting wages for child care providers.
Without strong federal support, high-quality child care could become a privilege of the wealthy. As the Biden administration notes in its fact sheet, “millions of parents are risking their lives as essential workers, while at the same time struggling to obtain care for their children.”
This funding would especially help women return to the workforce. Because women tend to bear more responsibility for family caregiving, they were more likely than men to drop out of the labor force, particularly in the first phase of the pandemic. The official U.S. unemployment rate fails to capture this gender gap, as it does not include people who have not looked for work in the past four weeks.
To child care advocates, the measures outlined in President Biden’s are directly in line with what they have been calling for since the onset of the pandemic.
“In the United States, we have let one of our most valuable and important community resources exist in a private, market-based system with roots in racism and sexism,” said Shana Bartley, Director of Community Partnerships at the National Women’s Law Center during a Q&A panel after a screening of Through the Night. “For us to really recover from this crisis, and imagine a better future because we can’t go back to the status quo, we need a significant investment in child care. That is the message we have been lifting up for the last year. We are now at a place where we are about to see an unprecedented investment into child care with the current Covid relief package moving through Congress.”
But this Covid package should only be a starting point. The pandemic has only exacerbated the fractures within the U.S. care economy that have always existed. While the additional funds will stabilize the current child care system, bold action must be taken in order to ensure comprehensive and universal child care for all. This will allow not only children and families to thrive, but child care workers as well.
As Nunu reminds viewers in the film, “We need our spirits lifted up too in order to be the people that we need to be for others.”