ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Child care is now more expensive than the cost of college tuition in roughly half the country.
That’s one of the statistics Mario Cardona usually leads off with when talking about the financial challenges facing some working parents when it comes to finding high-quality care for their children.
Cardona is the chief of policy and practice as Child Care Aware America, a nonprofit focused on getting families access to child care.
He says finding affordable and convenient child care was a struggle for families prior to the pandemic, and COVID-19 only worsened it.
"Childcare is the highest household expense," Cardona said. "It outstrips the amount of money you spend on groceries, utilities, mortgage or rent payments and so it’s a significant issue — and if you’re a single-parent household it’s untenable."
Wednesday night, during his first joint address to Congress, President Biden laid out his desire to get passed a $1.8 trillion spending and tax credit plan which includes $225 billion over 10 years to cover all child care costs for low-income families, while most others would pay no more than 7 percent of their annual income.
The average family could save $14,800 a year on child care under the plan, according to the Biden administration.
"That will go a long way in giving families the breathing room they need," Cardona said. "We know that childcare is essential in helping parents get to work and helping mothers, in particular, and so if you care about the economy then you care about childcare."
The proposal would also raise the minimum wage for child care providers to $15 an hour.
For Lynn Gibson, a provider with more than three decades of experience, says she sees promise in the proposal. Low pay, she believes, is one the reasons retention of high quality employees is difficult.
Gibson runs a child care center out of her home in Pinellas County—one of the few remaining in the area, let alone operating 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Many have shut down because of COVID-19 and haven’t reopened, she said.
But even as parents return to work, sometimes the kids aren’t returning to her care.
"They’ve maybe worked it out so he works the day shift and she works the nightshift," Gibson said as an example. "Because they took financial hits and they can’t afford to go back to the weekly payments of child care."
She says there’s still more she’d like to see done to help child care providers, like basing payments on over child enrollment not attendance, but for now she and her staff are doing their best to keep going.
"We're becoming extinct," she said. “And we're the cornerstone—if we don't work, you don't work."
Republican lawmakers in Congress so far have balked at the price tags of Biden's plans.
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