How to protect early childhood development in the wake of COVID-19
Every facet of the lives of children and families are being disrupted during this historic public health and economic crisis. Unfortunately, both their short-term and long-term consequences and challenges are not being fully considered or discussed. This crisis is severe and will last for months or even years to come. Moreover, the resulting physical and mental health consequences, impact on education and child development, and economic implications of this calamity will last well beyond the coronavirus itself.
That is why First Focus Campaign for Children called on Congress to safeguard the physical, emotional, financial, and developmental health and well-being of our nation’s 74 million children with a specific package of legislative proposals across a range of issues — including early childhood development.
Child care providers across the country have already closed, temporarily or permanently, due to the coronavirus crisis. Families are without care and early educators are without jobs. Those providers that are still open are struggling to provide care and services to the families of health and other essential workers to enable those parents to work, while also trying to maintain their businesses and staff who need to provide for their own families. Not only do child care providers need help with costs and paying employees now, but we also must ensure that these providers are able to reopen when our economic recovery from the coronavirus begins. Child care is quite literally the backbone of our economy, and our economy cannot function without it. Child care needs an investment that reflects its true value and demand.
The CARES Act provided $3.5 billion as a down payment for child care through increased funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant. The legislation also provided $349 billion in Small Business Administration (SBA) loans that child care providers, as well as providers of vital services including healthcare and human services, can potentially access. These were encouraging starts, but do not address the comprehensive needs of the child care field right now. A total investment of $50 billion is needed in flexible, dedicated child care funding to provide:
- Support for Child Care Providers: Pay providers to cover ongoing operating costs while they are closed for public health reasons, or open but with reduced enrollment to serve children of essential workers.
- Support for Workers: Provide essential duty pay for child care workers in programs that are remaining open during the crisis.
- Health and Safety Needs: Provide materials, resources, training and other public health supports regarding health and safety practices.
- Support for Families: Eliminate copayments or tuition for families during this public health and economic crisis while ensuring that providers are still paid.
- Substitute Staff: Fund and pay substitute educators where needed and available.
- Supplies: Purchase materials for providers that cannot afford or find supplies.
- Virtual Learning: Provide virtual learning opportunities when appropriate and mental health supports for families.
- Child Care as Small Businesses: Support for helping child care providers navigate small business loan application processes.
Additionally, increased funding for the SBA Paycheck Protection Program should be included in forthcoming legislation so that more child care providers and others can access money vital to keeping their businesses open. The PPP is not a comprehensive fix for child care and $50 billion is needed in dedicated child care funding, but these SBA loans could help some child care providers in the short term.
Families served through the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program who were already facing complex needs are now experiencing unprecedented challenges as they try to maintain the vital relationships and services provided through the MIECHV program. Home visitors provide a critical link of support for families who are facing a variety of challenges that will be exacerbated by this crisis. Home visiting was not included in the coronavirus packages passed by Congress, and program flexibility as well as additional funding is needed. We encourage you to include the following in future coronavirus legislation:
- MIECHV Funding: Prioritize a one-time $100 million appropriation for MIECHV. These funds can be used to train home visitors to deliver services through technology that enables home visits from a distance, as well as tangible needs for families including technology, formula, and diapers.
- Approval for Remote Access: Allow virtual visits to be considered home visits through the end of the calendar year to safely preserve valuable relationships without being penalized.
- Support for Home Visiting Staff: Maintain all funding for and staffing levels of MIECHV programs regardless of potential temporary reductions in enrollment to preserve the existing home visiting infrastructure.
For a full list of our specific policy recommendations across the array of children’s issues, check out our letter to Congress.