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Support for child care helps with economy recovery by helping parents get back to work

Commentary

Angie Dillon-Shore is the executive director of First 5 Sonoma County, an independent public agency charged with investing state tobacco tax dollars to support optimal child development through local programs and services.

COVID-19 has had a severely negative impact on child care programs nationwide, across California and here in Sonoma County.

The Center for American Progress projects that as many as half of California’s child care programs could permanently close in the coming months, translating to a potential loss of over 6,000 child care spaces in Sonoma County.

In fact, since March 17, approximately 25% of home-based providers and more than half of center-based child care facilities in Sonoma County are closed. A total of 17 facilities have permanently closed as of October 1, 2020 and do not plan to re-open.

Even before COVID-19, the sustainability of the child care industry was precarious, with programs operating on narrow margins and staff earning poverty wages.

Due to the pandemic, child care programs now face declining revenue, increased costs and an increased risk of closure due to three primary factors:

  1. Lost income due to lower utilization by parents who are working at home and/or fear that the child care setting presents a risk for COVID-19 transmission OR have lost their own employment and do not currently need child care.
  2. Lost income due to public health and child care licensing requirements that limit child enrollment, while simultaneously increasing staffing costs.
  3. Increased costs due to the staff time and cleaning supplies required to maintain COVID-safe child care facilities for children and teachers.

The state of California has assisted state-subsidized child care programs by holding operators harmless to contract terms and providing funding to offset the cost of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

However, most local child care providers do not have state contracts; private, center-based child care operators, after-school care program operators and home-based family child care providers largely depend on family fees and tuition to cover the costs of operation.

Sonoma County’s economy relies on a healthy child care infrastructure in order to thrive.

We all look to the day when COVID-19 subsides and our local economy can truly reopen.

However, if our community lacks an adequate supply of child care, many parents will be forced to leave the workforce, resulting in billions in lost wages and local economic activity. Ensuring that child care businesses remain open in the midst of the public health emergency so that families can return to work will go a long way in supporting Sonoma County’s economic recovery.

For this reason, the Sonoma County Child Care Resiliency Fund was collaboratively established by City of Santa Rosa, Community Foundation Sonoma County and First 5 Sonoma County. The $1.1 million fund will provide cash grants to child care providers that can be applied to a broad range of needs including cleaning supplies to mitigate COVID-19; payroll, rent, mortgage and utilities payments; and the cost of increased internet access to support multiple distance learners.

This public private partnership allows our community to maximize the impact of philanthropic dollars (the Community Foundation’s Resilience Fund), public funding for early childhood (Prop. 10 funding through First 5) and federal funding intended to address the local economic impacts of COVID-19 (CARES Act funding through the City of Santa Rosa).

Although the current fund will undoubtedly make a positive impact, additional contributions by entities such as the County of Sonoma, other municipalities and private donors will ensure that the child care sector is truly stabilized and more closures are prevented.

The fund is currently accepting applications through Dec. 1. Child care providers can find the link to apply on First5SonomaCounty.org. Bilingual assistance to complete the application is available through First 5, 4Cs, River to Coast Children’s Services and other community-based providers. First 5 Sonoma County will disburse the first round of funding by Dec. 22, 2020. For more information, see the First 5 Sonoma County website.

Commentary

Angie Dillon-Shore is the executive director of First 5 Sonoma County, an independent public agency charged with investing state tobacco tax dollars to support optimal child development through local programs and services.

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