North Carolina is getting $1.3 billion from the latest federal COVID relief package to rebuild the child care industry and support student enrollment.
The Biden White House announced Thursday it is releasing $39 billion to states and territories from the American Rescue Plan to help the ailing child care industry, money intended to help support a broader economic recovery.
Vice President Kamala Harris called the money “the single largest investment in child care in our nation’s history,” in remarks Thursday. “When it comes to child care in our country, families need help.”
North Carolina is getting $503 million for the child development block grant, which can be used to help cover tuition for families with low incomes, and $805 million for a “child care stabilization fund,” money that can go to child care centers and child care homes to help them make rent or mortgage payments, improve their buildings, or pay other pandemic-related costs.
The child care industry suffered in the pandemic. Some centers shut down temporarily the early months. Ninety-six percent had reopened as of February, according to NC Child, but enrollment is down 40% from pre-pandemic figures.
Last year’s federal COVID-19 relief packages also included money for the child care block grant. The March 2020 relief bill had $3.5 billion, and the December bill had $10 billion, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.
“Without consistent, affordable child care, parents – mostly mothers – are not able to go back to work. About 2 million women were forced to leave the workforce,” many due to child-care issues, Harris said.
“The strength of our county, the resilience of our economy, depends on the affordability and availability of child care,” Harris said.
Fawn Pattison, campaigns director at NC Child, couldn’t find enough superlatives to describe an additional $1.3 billion coming to the state for child care.
“It really is amazing,” she said. “Not just the opportunity to rebuild the ailing child care sector. We can make sure more kids can be prepared for kindergarten. Early education is where you get the most bang for the buck.”
Getting children ready for kindergarten increases the likelihood they will graduate on time and enjoy long-lasting health benefits, Pattison said.
“I think we need a yardstick to measure success by,” Pattison said. “It would be just tragic if it did not result in a big impact.”
Amy Cubbage, president of the NC Partnership for Children, said the money offers the opportunity to improve child care salaries, which will help recruit and retain quality teachers. The average wage for a child care teacher in the state is $12 an hour, she said, which leads to high turnover and instability for children and families. Cubbage said she hopes some of the money can be used to bring to more communities a program called WAGE$, which supplements salaries of low-paid teachers, directors and family child care providers.
The money coming to the state can set the stage “for a long-term, well-funded system of early education across the state,” she said.