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Family Child Care in Crisis: Providers Discuss What Comes after Pandemic Funding Ends

September 28, 2023

On September 30, 2023, federal funding made available to child care providers during the pandemic will expire. In this blog, providers discuss the impact.


Shanita Bowen, COO, ECE on the Move, NYC

Danielle Caldwell, NC family child care provider for 30 years

Tania Cress, NC family child care provider for 15 years

Doris Irizarry, Co-Founder, ECE On the Move, NYC

Gladys Jones, Founder and CEO, On the Move, NYC

The US child care industry was in distress before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Families either struggled to pay for or had no access to care, and providers were not able to attract or keep assistants because they couldn’t offer a livable wage and benefits.[1] Then the pandemic forced an estimated 20,000 child care centers to shut down. Federal stabilization grants helped support the remaining child care providers, but those funds are set to expire on September 30. As a result, an additional 70,000 child care centers are expected to close. Where will this leave the families, children, providers, workforce, and industry as a whole? The BUILD Initiative spoke to providers to get their thoughts on this dire situation.

How Much did the Stabilization Grants Help?

Caldwell: After being a home-based child care provider for 30 years, I recently closed my program. If those funds were going to continue, I would not have left the industry. If I were to have stayed in the industry, I would have needed to reduce my hours and increase my rate. With inflation, high rents, and food costs, it’s hard to stay in business with the low child care rates while I’m making poverty wages. Before, we could squeeze the eagle on a dollar and make it work. Now, there’s just no way.

Cress: Before the pandemic, things didn’t cost as much as they do now. I provide two meals a day and a snack for the children in my care. Pandemic funding paid for groceries, outdoor play equipment improvements, and my $15 per hour salary, which has gone right back into the business. With food prices having gone up and without the renewal of pandemic funding, I will have to raise my fee in January. But I can’t overwhelm my parents with a much higher fee because they can’t afford it, especially my one family that has three kids enrolled.

Irizarry: The pandemic funding has been a temporary bandaid. It helped most of us stay open, but I knew it wasn’t a long-term solution. Most people in New York City cannot afford their rent. My electric bill was $800 this month and I have a one-level, small house. You make less than that a month for a child in your care.

Bowen: There’s a misconception that the stabilization grant was enough. None of it ever reached even close to the cost of care. We still were not getting paid what we’re worth. It’s not even enough to pay yourself and an assistant. We can’t keep assistants because we can’t offer benefits; the industry is not attractive to them.

Foreboding Post-Pandemic Trends in Child Care

Bowen: With the federal dollars drying up, there’s even less money to pay assistants, yourself, and overhead. A lot of providers that are open pay their assistants but don’t pay themselves.

Irizarry: I’m in a child care desert. I used to have 10 providers near me, and we used to help each other. If I was full, I would send families to all these other providers. It’s going to get even worse because I’m retiring.

Jones: We have had fewer children because a lot of parents are staying home.

Bowen: We’ve always had to create strategies to survive depending on the situation of the moment. Now the new trend is downsizing because programs across the city can’t afford to pay assistants. What we don’t want as leaders in family child care is to see the industry downsize until we’re gone. That’s the fear.

Irizarry: Many of our previous providers have become home health aides, now taking care of adults instead of children.

Bowen: To survive, some of us are not paying our taxes or not paying Workers’ Comp or other things [we know we should do but can’t afford to].

Irizarry: A lot of people are going to open underground day cares. Families will pay them what they can, providers are going to get a whole bunch of kids, and bad things are going to happen. That’s very frightening.

Caldwell: Poor people have always been innovators who create something from nothing. But in this case, that might not be such a good thing: You’ll soon find a subset of providers offering care who have no understanding of child development, aren’t qualified, and don’t have the patience to do this work. And in 10 or 15 years, when the children show up in public school, we’re going to be trying to figure out what happened–and we’re going to be looking for someone to blame. But the truth will be that the families who chose that care had no other option.


Bowen: Let’s have some point people who care about fixing the system so there aren’t so many grievances related to parents obtaining timely child care service. The grievances are being handled one by one instead of the overall systemic issues being addressed to ensure that the process in obtaining care is consistent.

Jones: We have joined forces with parents. We become their voices, helping them overcome language barriers to qualify for child care.

Caldwell: I suggest a mandated match of the CCDF grant. Another solution is to give tax breaks to home-based providers. A sole proprietor gets taxed twice – as an individual and as a business, sometimes up to 35 percent. A lot of providers end up making pennies by the time they pay their taxes. Maybe the collapse of the system is what we need. Maybe we can build it back better, for example, not use the market rate, which was a false construct anyway: If you bake a cake, whether in New York City or North Carolina, you need eggs, sugar, butter, and flour. But the market rate says, “You don’t need eggs if you’re in the mountains.” We all need the same things to build a healthy child!

Congress Must Act

Across states and political parties, residents of this country have said they want working families to have access to high-quality, affordable child care. As Heising-Simons Foundation Program Officer Rebecca E. Gomez noted in the LA Times, “This agenda is supported by the 93% of voters who believe it’s important for working parents to be able to find and afford quality child care for their youngest children.” Lawmakers, hear this plea. Avert the disaster that’s about to unfold for thousands of families and children. Enact federal policy that will stabilize the early care and education system.



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