When I was pregnant with my now three year-old twins, I was working multiple jobs in the caregiving field in Abilene, Texas. I directed a childcare and preschool program while also doing home health, caring for the elderly and children with autism.
When my twins were born, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up this schedule, but I have always felt called to this profession, and knew I wanted to continue at least part time. So I applied for child care assistance so I could go back to work. But because I made just 10 cents over the annual income limit, I didn’t qualify.
That’s when I decided to open my own home as a 24 hour, 7 days a week childcare facility. I operated three programs for birth to school-age kids: daytime, evenings, and overnights. I set my rates on a weekly basis to be affordable for families who mostly relied on childcare subsidies, which paid low reimbursement rates to providers. I worked around the clock, but still only made $2 to $3 per hour per child — about one fifth of what an average teenager makes babysitting on a Saturday night. I am an early childhood professional with a college degree taking good care of other people’s children so that they could earn a living wage, meanwhile my own family was living in poverty.
At the beginning of 2020, I moved from Abilene to Stamford, Texas, a town of only a couple thousand people. Knowing that rural areas have a hard time finding quality child care, I thought the demand for affordable care would be good for business. But it’s been challenging to secure the funding to get my child care center up-and-running. And families here can’t afford to pay the rates my quality of care deserves.
It’s no wonder that child care providers are leaving this profession in droves, especially in rural areas. This crisis is forcing working parents, especially women, to leave their jobs because they can’t afford child care or don’t have access to it. Even before the pandemic, about 60% of families in rural areas lived in a child care desert, so this isn’t a new problem. But COVID-19 made it much worse. The lack of access to affordable childcare is crippling the economy and holding people back.
President Biden’s Build Back Better plan for historic investments in our child care system, combined with child tax credits for families, would help reverse this crisis.
At my child care facility, 63% of the clients I saw regularly paid with a childcare subsidy. I helped families with their applications, because if they filled out the paperwork incorrectly, I wouldn’t get paid. Many people in rural areas around the country aren’t even aware that these subsidies, or an extra income boost like the child tax credits, exist.
Eva Bell works with moms at the rural community organization Hoosier Action in Indiana. At a recent Community Change Action press briefing on how to get the child tax credit to the families who need it most, she said, “The experiences of rural families have often been overlooked because they don’t have the same access to information.”
Accessing child care subsidies now can be difficult, and depending on the state, full of requirements that a parent may not be able to meet, like working a minimum number of hours. In 2016, only 8% of the 17.4 million federally-eligible children received subsidies. Build Back Better is expected to allow 20 million more children to access care. Increased subsidies mean that more parents can work, while more money can flow to childcare providers. This plan dramatically changes the outlook for parents. Millions will pay nothing, while the majority of American families will pay only a few thousand dollars per year.
In addition, the Child Tax Credit lets parents make decisions about what’s best for their families. Prior to the passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) earlier this year, the child tax credit was $2,000 per child. The ARP expansion increased the total amount of tax credit to between $3,000 and $3,600 per child and put half of it immediately into the pockets of parents with advance monthly payments, who can use it to help pay for child care, food, school supplies, or whatever they need. What’s more, improvements to the CTC allow families living in poverty to receive the full credit for the first time. Previously, these families were shut out of the benefit because their incomes were too low.
We need to make the new CTC permanent and make federal investments in a child care system that will meet parents’ needs and support caregivers — the workforce behind the workforce.
Being a public servant and caring for others is what’s in my heart. But this work is not given near the amount of respect that it deserves. The reconciliation package can do a lot. I’m asking lawmakers to reconcile their differences and do what’s right for our country. Then parents and caregivers can reconcile our families and our rural communities to get back to work. We’ve needed these investments for a long time, and we can’t keep waiting.