As the mother of four, currently with two school-aged children attending public school remotely, I can’t help but reflect on a time when I was completely reliant on child care to work. Perhaps this is why my heart aches for the millions of parents who still have to choose every 24 hours between being able to go to work or care for their children. These parents can’t be expected to report to work without affordable, reliable, safe, dependable and much needed childcare. Most of us know that the new Biden-Harris administration faces many challenges from the hostile and resistant transfer of presidential power from the Trump administration. Fighting the coronavirus pandemic that has killed over 1.54 million people worldwide, and more than 14.7 million people across every state according to TheCut.com, is a challenge no administration has faced in over a century. But what needs to be understood is that even with a safe and trusted vaccine the economy is still in jeopardy without our workforce having proper child care to be able to return to essential jobs. As this pandemic has demonstrated, our economy will collapse if child care is not given the priority, funding and attention it deserves.
This is why on November 3rd, I voted as a child care voter, and encouraged others to do the same by supporting, promoting and attending a virtual child care rally. Last month, author, professor, moderator, the beloved Melissa Harris Perry, hosted a virtual child care rally urging all of us to be child care voters in the election. And based on the record numbers of those who showed up and showed out, I would say a significant number of us are child care voters. With our child care needs being front and center, more now than ever with the coronavirus pandemic, we must ensure our President-elect stands by his commitment to child care.
So far Biden appears to be selecting trusted and former White House colleagues to play key roles in his administration with Tony Blinken expecting to be nominated as Secretary of State. I’m hoping self-proclaimed children lover, lawyer and activist for gender equality, Tina Tchen, former White House chief of staff to Michelle Obama, will be considered as we face this child care crisis that has existed for years. During the virtual rally, Ms. Chen said, “child care has always been seen as the parent or child care worker’s problem and what we know is that childcare needs to be part of public policy. What we can do is continue to fight for our children by changing our child care culture. When employers invest and child care is treated like a public utility change will happen.”
Biden, speaking in New Castle, Delaware, said “he knew firsthand what it was like to struggle to afford child care.”
“I was a single parent for five years after my wife and daughter were killed and my two boys were badly injured,” said Biden, recalling the deadly 1972 car crash in which he lost his wife and daughter. “Even though I had a lot more support than a lot of people going through tough times today, it was hard. It was hard,” he said.
About four months ago, President-elect Joe Biden stated, “we are in a child care crisis, trapped in an economic crisis, trapped in an public health crisis,” and as tragic as that sounded then it is much more catastrophic as we are now in the holiday season. Weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the New York City public school system would shut down a second time after the city reached a 3 percent coronavirus test positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average. As a New York resident I ‘m worried about all of our children. Their parents will still be expected to be in attendance for work as they were pre-pandemic despite not having the proper childcare for their children. Only 30% of the American labor force is currently working from home, with an additional 25% working remotely sometimes, but remote work is a privilege so where does that leave the majority 25-70% that must leave their homes while their children have no place to go?
Of the estimated 1.1 million school aged children in New York City alone, what will happen to these students when they are left to fend for themselves academically because their parents are at work? And what about public preschool programs, like Head start and pre-K, which are known to help close the achievement gap between low and high income kids? In recent year’s cities and states have been expanding these programs with the goal of access for all 4-year olds, where remote learning is less of an option and even less of a tangible and realistic solution.
Mr. President-elect announced a plan, dubbed the 21st Century Caregiving and Education Workforce” plan, that will invest $775 billion over 10 years in rebuilding and fortifying the nation’s caregiving economy. Biden also proposed emergency funding to states to help keep struggling child care centers afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. It has been even more tough for child care providers that have been impacted notably. When families made decisions to not send their children to child care centers for fear of contracting coronavirus, the industry suffered.
I don’t believe anyone doubts the President-elect’s understanding, empathy, awareness or concern of our country’s child care crisis, the job now for the Biden-Harris administration is to fulfill the promises they made during their campaign and keep their commitment to Build Back Better starting with child care reform.