Women’s Funds across the globe continue to combine the power of philanthropy and advocacy to catalyze lasting change for women and their families. Childcare is an essential workforce support, making it not just a family issue, but a core economic issue for both workers and employers. This pandemic has not only exploited the fragility of the U.S. market-based child care industry, but has also shone a spotlight on how racism and sexism endure when built into policies and systems that touch our everyday lives. Changing policy is the only way to advance a fair and equitable community for all.
The Problem: During a typical year, employers lose about $13 billion in potential earnings, productivity, and revenue due to inadequate child-care resources (Council for a Strong America). The pandemic has forced 11 million women out of their jobs in just four months, leaving many with the choice of staying home to care for their children or seeking out childcare centers to continue as essential workers. The early care and education sector has a majority-women workforce, approximately 40% of whom are women of color. Despite the exponential benefits their work provides to society and the economy, decades of underinvestment led the child care industry to the brink of collapse even before COVID-19 struck. The pandemic has simply provided the final push.
3 in 4 private child care providers have closed during the pandemic, heavily impacting an industry where 92% of businesses are female-owned
76% of parents reporting needing to stay home and not work due to childcare were females, compared to 24% who were males.
8 in 10 families cannot afford the full cost of high quality infant and toddler care. This disparity is even higher for families of color — 94%.
The Solution: To solve our country’s child care crisis, we need an expansive approach that fundamentally shifts the narrative about child care from a privilege for the few to a public good for all. That’s why women’s funds across the U.S. are supporting bold policy that centers caregivers as essential to a thriving economy. This means private-public support for workforce flexibility and early childhood education that meets global health and safety standards.
Childcare policy that supports women and their families and should:
- Enrich children in a safe environment;
- Strengthen women’s and families’ economic security and mobility;
- Be diverse, inclusive and universally accessible;
- Respect the rights and dignity of child care workers and educators;
- Be informed by the voices of all stakeholders; and
- Holistically approach the needs of children and challenges families face.
WFN supports the following national policy recommendations. We underscore the need for comprehensive policy reform and highlight efforts from our network underway across the U.S. to build a stronger, more equitable future for families and children.
Childcare for Working Families Act would (Center for American Progress):
- Guarantee child care assistance to low-income and middle-class families earning up to 150 percent of the median income in their state.
- Limit child care payments to 7% of a family’s income to align with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ definition of affordable child care.
- Ensure that people who work in child care earn a living wage and are compensated at the same level as elementary school teachers if they have the same credentials and experience.
- Make investments to improve quality in child care programs and build the supply of child care in underserved areas.
Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would (National Partnership for Women & Families):
- Provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take time for:
- their own serious health conditions, including pregnancy and childbirth recovery;
- the serious health condition of a child, parent, spouse or domestic partner;
- the birth or adoption of a child; and/or
- for particular military caregiving and leave purposes.
- Enable workers to earn 66 percent of their monthly wages, up to a capped amount – ensuring that low- and middle-wage workers have a higher share of wages replaced.
- Cover workers in all companies, no matter their size.
- Younger, part-time, lower-wage, contingent, or self-employed workers eligible for benefits.
- Funded by small employee and employer payroll contributions of two-tenths of 1% each (two cents per $10 in wages), or roughly $2.00 per week for a typical worker.
Healthy Families Act would (National Partnership for Women and Families):
- Allow workers in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to 7 paid sick days each year to be used to recover from their own illnesses, access preventive care, provide care to a sick family member, or attend school meetings related to a child’s health condition or disability.
- Allow workers in businesses with less than 15 employees to earn up to 7 unpaid sick days per year to be used for the same reasons, unless their employers choose to offer paid sick days.
- Allow workers who are victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault to use their paid sick days to recover or seek assistance related to an incident.
- Allow workers to earn a minimum of one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours per year, unless the employer selects a higher limit.
- Allow employers to require certification if an employee uses more than three paid sick days in a row. (For victims/survivors of domestic violence, the certification may be from a law enforcement officer, victim advocate, or court order).
LOCAL WISDOM: STATE-BASED WOMEN’S FUNDS LEADING NATIONAL REFORM
Arizona: Legislation Underway to Support Childcare Workers Training Expansion
All good policy is based on sound research. A study done by the University of Arizona in partnership with the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona in 2019 found that although 89% of Arizona low-income single mothers with children under six have a high school education — and though most were working — the lack of a postsecondary degree substantially limited their job prospects and earning potential, often leaving them to rely on assistance benefits.
As a result, local organization leaders launched a pilot program for single moms eliminating barriers to enrolling in education programs that can get them onto higher-wage, growing career paths. Through the research, the organization identified those growing career paths in the region and worked with the local Community College to create 1 year CTE programs for these single moms, including: classes during the school day to limit necessary childcare; free childcare; monthly stipends; emergency funding as needed; career coaching and other supports.
Legislation currently filed — HB 2016/SB 1387 — proposes to allow parents who are currently receiving the childcare subsidy benefit to enroll in a full-time educational program, providing flexibility on the work requirements. The Senate Bill (SB 1387) passed unanimously out of its first committee but community organizers urge supporters to continue their successful advocacy until the measure passes. This legislation has the power to grow the workforce and local economy by investing in women leaders and business owners.
Alabama: A Strategic Leader Putting Boots on the Ground
Goal setting is important. The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham leads the way in strategic vision: Improve access and quality in the child care system so more women can enter, remain, and succeed in the workforce — and so that Alabama can reach its attainment goal of 500,000 skilled workers by 2025. The organization fights for systemic change at the policy level, including proactively advocating for state appropriations to expand quality child care to more Alabama families. Local partners are also scaling proven post-secondary models, created and incubated by The Women’s Fund and community colleges in the Greater Birmingham area, so that women gain credentials for in-demand jobs while their children are in high-quality child care.
Register for their virtual legislative day, Capitol Heels, on Thursday, March 11 at 8:00 AM.
Colorado: Early Care and Education (ECE) Promotes Economic Security
The Women’s Foundation of Colorado has been actively engaging in policy and advocacy. As a result of grant funding from WFN, they have become active leaders of a policy coalition focused on bolstering the ECE workforce in Colorado. Colorado’s early care and education sector is experiencing a shortage of qualified workers. With input from their cohort of direct-service and public-policy grantees, over 50 ECE and workforce development experts, and public sectors across the state, WFCO will continue to prioritize legislation that will rebuild the childcare workforce. This year, Gov. Polis included two crucial budget line items that WFCO has identified as key policy priorities:
- Support for Early Childhood Educator Workforce - $1.2 million to create and fund a Recruitment and Retention Grant and Scholarship Program.
- CCCAP Early Childhood Educator Salary Increase - $3.0 million to create and implement a pilot grant program studying the impact of subsidized wages for ECE educators; $2.8 million for wage increases, $200,000 for program administration and evaluation.
Connecticut: Creating short-term and long-term plans to rebuild adequate childcare.
Teamwork makes the dream work. The Aurora Foundation for Women and Girls, alongside the Women’s Funds of the Community Foundations of New Haven and Fairfield County, published a collaborative research report Essential Equity: Women, Covid-19 and Rebuilding CT. The report highlights the lack of available childcare options, dwindling financial supports for childcare programs, and the inability of families to afford adequate childcare, and offers policy recommendations for addressing both the immediate need as well as long-term infrastructure recovery:
- Immediate relief: Expand eligibility to Connecticut’s child care subsidy to parents who are enrolled in a job training or education program, or who are unemployed and in search of a job. Ensure child care providers receive adequate financial support, personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies to remain operating during the pandemic.
- Long-term recovery: Initiate a system of universal early education and child care in Connecticut to ensure all families can afford high quality care with well-paid providers and educators in the setting of their choice.
Iowa: Bringing Childcare Into the 21st Century
The Iowa Women’s Foundation (IAWF) (RRRCF grantee, WEMH cohort member) is leading a state-wide initiative, working with business, policy makers, child care providers and nonprofits to:
- Building new and expanding existing child care centers.
- Support child care entrepreneurs.
- Encouraging local businesses to expand and/or add child care benefits, including offering in-house care to workers.
- Working w/ community colleges to inform & educate the next generation of child care providers.
- Supporting before-and after-school programing.
- And creating viable child care options for second- and third-shift workers.
Maine: Building Relationships Inside of and Out of the Classroom
Maine Children’s Alliance advocates for policies to support the 12,000 female-headed households and 14,000 children living in poverty in Maine, such as expanding access to education, job training, and improved work-family policies and food security.
By funding programs that support new mothers, STEM programming for childcare/afterschool programs, and providing a pathway for women to earn a Child Development Associate certificate, The Maine Women’s Fund been able to provide additional options for childcare programming, increase the skilled childcare workforce and enhance the economic mobility of new mothers.
Missouri: Partnering to Increase Access
The Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis has made access to affordable childcare a crucial component of this year’s advocacy agenda. Their goal is to expand knowledge, access, and information to women throughout the state. As a result, they’re partnering with the National Council of Jewish Women in St. Louis on the issue of childcare access, hosting a series of round table discussions, interviews and surveys with various stakeholders (including women and families) in the region on the challenges of childcare and policy solutions. Only when we learn from and with those most impacted by services can we tailor our policy to best meet the needs of the families who need childcare solutions.
New York: Child Care as a Workforce Support & Economic Driver
The New York Women’s Foundation (WNY) (RRRCF grantee, WEMH cohort member) is living their motto. Their radical generosity is spearheading crucial, game-changing initiatives across the state to:
- Increase child care subsidy eligibility in Niagara County working with NOAH
- Work w/ Erie County: dedicate up to $25MM in federal CARES Act funding to childcare issues
- Increase of $7 million allocated for child care subsidies in New York State
- Secured $500 for Erie County Facilitated Enrollment Child Care Subsidy Program.
- Aided in the restoration of the Advantage Aftercare program, affecting over 400 children and easing the minds of WNY parents to continue to work to provide for their families, knowing their children have a safe space to go after school.
Ohio: Raise the State’s Childcare Eligibility Income Rate
Current funding by state and federal entities is woefully inadequate. Parents are spending $42 billion on early child care—more than federal and state spending combined. Research shows that childcare costs are the single largest expense for women and families in central Ohio. Accessibility and affordability to childcare is the best opportunity to influence the “cliff effect” – when a minimal increase in hourly wages results in the complete termination of a benefit and dramatic net loss of resources.
According to most recent data (2015), an adult with two children in Ohio needs to make $56,497 annually or $29.43 hourly to meet their basic needs—this is about 280% FPL. The Women’s Fund of Ohio undertook a three years campaign to raise the state’s childcare eligibility income rate by 10% from 130% FPL ($26,556 annually) to 140% FPL ($27,588). The current draft budget moves it up to 138% – close, but still a lot of room to go and grow. Research Brief: Childcare and the Benefits Cliff.
Texas: Nonprofits and Businesses Alike Understand Women as an Economic Force
The Texas Women’s Foundation has long been a leader in advocating for real policy solutions to challenges that women, children, and families face in their state. Fighting for equitable childcare and afterschool programming as a work support for women is a top priority for the community and the organization. Texas understands that childcare is a driving economic factor. As a result, they are working in coalition with key grantees such as the Dallas Early Education Alliance, Early Matters Dallas, After the Bell Alliance, and other organizations such as TXPOST, Dallas Regional Chamber, United Way Dallas, Commit, and Dallas ISD. They’re advocating to:
- Require subsidy providers to participate in the Texas Rising Star program with a clear phase-in of requirements and support systems needed;
- Build on school finance reforms of 2019 to fund full-day pre-K programs and other levels of early education.
Vermont: Childcare the Key to Post-Pandemic Economic Recovery
The Vermont Women’s Fund (VWF) is supporting childcare policies in Vermont as a key building block to post-pandemic economic recovery. The fund is working in partnership with an organization called Let’s Grow Kids which is dedicated to creating high quality, affordable childcare in Vermont. VWF supports the efforts with grant funding and the two organizations are working in coalition to pass a three-year legislative plan to create a statewide childcare system.
SUMMARY OF POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
While there is no single solution that will work for all caregivers or all communities, by following the wisdom of local voices that are centering marginalized genders in communities of color, we believe it is possible to create a bold set of options for families to consider what works best for their situation, including, but not limited to:
- Grants to expand child care capacity
- Expansion of eligibility for child care assistance (Title XX)
- Increasing workforce capacity and training of licensed childcare workers and centers
- More accessible paid leave (expanding paid family leave provisions made available in the FFCRA)
- Adjusting rules for child care licensing to facilitate necessary and immediate capacity expansion
- Adjusting rules for Unemployment Insurance (eligible if have to leave employment due to lack of child care availability)