Child Care System for Families in Need on Verge of Collapse, Warn Providers

A new California law allowed certain in-home child care providers to unionize. (Rawpixel/iStock)

Child care providers who care for some of California's neediest families have been warning for months that the system is going to collapse if they don’t get help soon. In-home providers already operated on razor-thin margins. Now, those who take care of kids receiving state subsidies for care say their costs and responsibilities are skyrocketing, and support from the state has not kept pace.

The newly formed union representing those providers, Child Care Providers United (CCPU), filed on Tuesday an unfair labor practice complaint against the state, accusing officials of failing to collaborate with providers on solutions to pandemic-related issues.

The complaint states, in part, "the Governor, through CalHR, has denied CCPU rights guaranteed it by the Childcare Provider Act and refused or failed to meet and confer in good faith."

The union says nearly 6,000 child care centers have closed since the pandemic started, leaving more than 60,000 kids without access to care — and many child care workers without a job. CCPU Chairman Max Arias said the state needs to pay attention.

“With thousands of child care centers already closed and more closing every week, we are at the breaking point," Arias said. "The state can no longer ignore the child care crisis. We demand the state leaders protect the children and families who are counting on child care before the system collapses.”

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The union is calling on the state to increase reimbursement rates for providers caring for older children participating in distance learning. Currently, providers are only being reimbursed for the time students would typically be in their care if schools were in session as usual, but many providers are now caring for those students all day while providing a space to do distance learning.

CCPU also wants California to fully financially support providers who must temporarily shut down after a possible COVID-19 exposure. It also wants the state to follow through on its promise to reimburse fees for families affected by the pandemic — the state has set aside money for reimbursement, but has not yet distributed it.

A recent study by the progressive think tank Center for American Progress found that U.S. child care providers are facing, on average, a 47% increase in operating costs during the pandemic. The increase is higher for programs serving 3- and 4-year-olds. In California, the union estimates some providers have seen their costs shoot up by 75%.

Between increased cleaning costs, unexpected pandemic-related shutdowns and distance learning expenses, in-home providers like Charlotte Neal of Sacramento say they’re exhausted.

“We're sanitizing our homes like operating rooms. We're upgrading our Wi-Fi so kids can do distance learning and can stay connected," she said. "And we're helping these precious little children deal with the stress, the trauma of the scary times that we are living in.”

Katina Richardson, who runs a day care in Alameda County, said she has put her health and the health of her family at risk to support essential workers. But she's not getting the same support from the government, she said.

"While we provide essential child care to the children of other front-line workers, we have no one to turn to for any slight sense of security ourselves," she said.

There could be some hope on the horizon for providers, because early budget projections for the state show revenues coming in well above what was expected.

A new report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office shows tax revenues have actually come in ahead of projections, while the number of people signing up for assistance programs has been below expectations.

Legislative Analyst Gabriel Petek said those are among the reasons the state finds itself with a one-time windfall of $26 billion. He’s recommending putting half of it toward budget reserves and paying off borrowing.

“The other half of the windfall, we do think it would be reasonable to consider using it for the mitigation of economic hardship or pandemic-related activities," Petek said.

Child care providers likely hope they'll be among those that get some relief.