PROVIDENCE, RI – Over the last several years, federal aid has helped thousands of Rhode Island families access affordable child care and allowed local child care providers to staff up and pay skilled, educated workers a livable wage.

On September 30, the last of the federal COVID-19 relief money from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (P.L. 117-2) will stop flowing to child care centers nationwide.

Now, parents, businesses, workers, and employers are sounding the alarm that the shortage of available child care options is hurting the U.S. economy and U.S. Senator Jack Reed is urging Congress to take action before a looming fiscal child care cliff takes effect in late September.

Today, Senator Reed joined Rhode Island KIDS COUNT and the Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center to discuss the importance of affordable, quality child care and what Congress must do to prevent more families from losing access to child care.  While local families and children won’t suddenly wake up on October 1 with no child care, experts warn the lack of federal support will mean a very different child care landscape with possibly fewer options for families, fewer staff, and higher payments for working families.  And providers serving lower-income families, whose care is paid for in part through the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) subsidy, could be left most at risk.

Federal child care investment is vital to working families and critical to workforce development, job creation, and economic growth.  Access to high-quality, affordable, and reliable childcare is a significant factor in family well-being and parents' ability to hold down a job, support their family, pursue their goals and thrive.  And high-quality child care programs staffed with skilled educators is a critical part of the state’s early learning system, helping children learn and develop skills necessary to succeed in school and life.  

However, affording and accessing quality child care is becoming more difficult.  In its 2023 review of conditions for children and families, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT characterized the childcare system as “unworkable for most families” and found that only 10 percent of Rhode Islanders can afford childcare.  The report showed the cost for sending one infant to a certified childcare center in Rhode Island is $13,780 annually; for a preschooler it is $11,700; and a six to 12-year-old, $8,684.

Senator Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, helped include $93 million for child care in Rhode Island as part of the American Rescue Plan.  As a result, the state passed those federal relief dollars on to child care centers in the form of grants, one-time staffing bonuses, and through increased family income eligibility and elevated hourly rates paid for each child on subsidy.

A new report released by The Century Foundation (TCF) shows that on September 30, 2023, as pandemic relief funds dry up, child care for millions of children and families nationwide could begin to disappear.  TCF projects that without congressional action, a projected 3.2 million child care slots could be lost and roughly 70,000 child care programs could close, hurting working families and local economies.  Parents nationwide will be forced to either pay more for child care or pull their children from care and work fewer hours.

“Every family deserves top-notch child care they can afford and the federal government should provide a sustainable, reliable source of funding.  The research and evidence is clear: quality, affordable child care is a public good and an economic imperative that expands opportunity.  I’m working with my colleagues to deliver more money for child care, but House Republicans are pulling in the opposite direction.  Simply put, our nation cannot afford the Republican cuts. We’ve got to do more.  That means sustaining these investments for the long term so that every child and every family has access to affordable, safe, and high-quality education and care,” said Senator Reed, who this week joined several colleagues in sending a letter to President Biden, stating: “We urge you to join us in calling for an investment of $16 billion a year by any and all means possible – including supporting Congress in efforts to extend the Child Care Stabilization grants passed in ARPA, and through emergency funding for child care in any supplemental appropriations package put forth by the Administration.” 

Reed noted the most recent appropriations process yielded $8 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grants (CCDBG), which was an increase of $1.85 billion, or 30 percent, over fiscal year 2022 funding.  However, with the passage of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (P.L. 118-5) in June, Congress is constrained on discretionary spending.  Reed says additional child care funds should be added as part of an emergency supplemental.

“Rhode Island relies on federal funding to provide families access to affordable, quality child care and early learning programs. In fact, 89% of the funding for the RI Child Care Assistance Program comes directly from the federal government. Federal child care stabilization funding during the COVID-19 pandemic has been absolutely critical to keeping our child care centers and family child care homes from going out of business and our state economy thriving.  This commitment to helping families, children, and child care programs must continue and be expanded so that more families can access high-quality, affordable, reliable child care,” said Paige Clausius-Parks, EdM, Executive Director, Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.

“Federal COVID-19 relief funds have been a big part of keeping Beautiful Beginnings open for the families we serve and for paying our early educators bonuses for the important work that they do,” said Khadija Lewis Khan, MEd, Executive Director of Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center. “Those funds are set to expire, and without additional needed investments in our natio’'s child care infrastructure, I am worried we may be forced to close classrooms because of staffing shortages due to historically low wages in our field. We can't allow that to happen.  Our families rely on quality, affordable child care so they can get to work.  That’s why I want to thank Senator Reed for proposing additional funding for child care in the supplemental appropriations package before Congress.  When we invest in child care, we are investing in our kids, working families, our early educators, and our economy.  Child care is essential and that's why these additional investments are so important.”

Emphasizing the urgent need for immediate funding and long-term comprehensive solutions, Senator Reed is teaming up with U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) on the Child Care for Working Families Act (S. 1354).  This bill would alleviate the high cost of child care for working families; provide families with more flexible options for high-quality, affordable child care; and boost wages for early childhood workers.  The bill would cap child care expenses at 7 percent of working families’ incomes. It would authorize federal grants for child care providers to boost wages, and increase access to pre-k education while supporting full-day Head Start programs.