by Karen Schulman, Senior Policy Analyst
National Women’s Law Center

The deepening economic recession is affecting all sectors of our economy and all aspects of American’s lives—and child care is no exception. Families are finding it more difficult to afford the high-quality care they want for their children, child care programs are finding it more difficult to maintain enrollment and stay in business, and states are finding it more difficult to fund child care assistance for low-income families.

With growing budget deficits, a number of states are proposing to make cuts to their child care assistance programs. In Oregon, there is discussion about reducing reimbursement rates paid to child care providers who serve children receiving child care assistance from the 75th percentile of market rates (the rate that gives families access to 75 percent of the providers in their communities), which is the federally recommended level, to the 65th percentile of market rates. Florida’s waiting list for child care assistance has grown to 60,000 children, and Pennsylvania’s waiting list for child care assistance is at 15,000 children. Nevada is cutting child care assistance for 450 children.

At time when families are struggling financially, these cuts make it less likely they will receive help paying for child care. And without assistance, many families have no choice but to pull their children out of child care programs they can no longer afford—depriving children of the stability that is so important for their development.

It is essential that Congress help address this situation by including funding for child care assistance in the economic recovery package currently under consideration. An additional $3 billion for child care would allow states to provide child care assistance for approximately 480,000 children in low-income working families, and create paid work for an estimated 190,000 caregivers. 

As Congress and the incoming administration take time to discuss and debate the size and shape of the economic recovery package, the child care situation grows more challenging each day. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, like a teacher disciplining her unruly school children, has told Congress that if they don’t finish the economic recovery package by the mid-February President’s Day Recess, “there will be no recess.” That’s exactly as it should be. Congress should not delay on an economic recovery package, and should not neglect to include crucial supports for children and families in that package. Too many children and families are counting on them.