Our country is currently grappling with two unusually potent challenges. The devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s heinous killing have made it abundantly clear that there is much work to be done to strengthen our nation.
The key similarity between these two challenges — and the similarity that gives me hope — is that the responsibility to resolve them falls upon all of us, together. Everyone has a stake in seeing our country overcome both the pandemic and the persistent effects of racial inequity that impact communities across Minnesota and the United States.
To be sure, these issues affect us in different ways on an individual level. But these are issues for which we share a collective responsibility to solve, as they reflect upon all of us, and on our country as a whole.
Likewise, the underlying problems in play for both issues share some of the same solutions.
Access to high-quality child care must be a key part of strategies to address both of these challenges. As we recover from COVID-19 and accelerate our efforts to address racial inequity, investments in high-quality child care will help clear a path forward.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc not only on public health, but also on the economy, including our small businesses. As the country begins to reopen, businesses and their employees need more support than ever. To ensure that the working population can safely return, we must protect, stabilize and strengthen the entire child care sector.
A fragile child care sector was already in crisis before the pandemic. A 2019 report from national business-leader group ReadyNation highlighted that the infant-and-toddler child care crisis costs the U.S. economy $57 billion every year in lost productivity, revenue and earnings. The report also showed that 86% of caregivers reported child care issues as being detrimental to their work performance.
This data highlights just a few of the far-reaching impacts of the already existing child care crisis. Child care is not only vital to the economy and to working parents but, of course, to children as well. Reliable, high-quality child care, including home-based child care, provides a safe and supportive environment in which children can develop.
When kids are supported early in life, they are better prepared for future success. As the country engages in discussions around racial equity and systemic issues, we can look to high-quality child care as one way to help narrow the educational achievement gap that so often disproportionately affects children of color and children from families with low incomes.
As Congress works to negotiate the next COVID-19 economic relief package, sustaining the child care sector must be included. To support our workers and strengthen our families, Congress should establish a child care stabilization fund. This fund, which should include direct grants to both center-based and home-based child care providers, will ensure that as Americans transition back to work, child care will be available. All child care providers need that economic relief.
Additional federal funding is critical to address the challenges of new health and safety regulations that all child care providers must comply with to reopen. For example, providers will need to implement enrollment caps to foster social distancing and buy more cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.
These are just two examples of the additional cost burden that providers must now bear. This added financial burden, coupled with reduced revenue, will make it nearly impossible for providers to continue offering child care services to families across the country.
Our country sits on the precipice of major change. We cannot forget the needs of our nation’s youngest learners at this pivotal moment. Congress should build upon the $15 billion investment included in the HEALS Act to prioritize significant additional funding to help stabilize the child care industry in the next emergency funding package. Doing so will lay a foundation for a safer, stronger and more equitable future for all.
Douglas M. Baker Jr. is chairman and CEO of Ecolab Inc. He is also a member of the ReadyNation CEO Task Force on Early Childhood and resides in Edina.