GUEST VIEW: Invest in quality, affordable child care

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by Cali Boimilla, Director of Sandpiper’s Early Learning Center, Child & Family
November 7, 2021, Newport Daily News

There is a child care crisis on Aquidneck Island and across Rhode Island. This crisis is impacting our ability to offer quality, affordable child care to parents at precisely the time that many need reliable care options so they can return to work or increase their hours. It is time for the General Assembly to get back to work and tap unused American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to invest in our child care programs, our child care educators, and in our working families by expanding access to reliable, affordable, quality child care.

As the director of Sandpipers Early Learning Center, I am proud that we are a 4-Star rated BrightStars provider. That means we are meeting high standards to provide quality care and early learning opportunities for the young children and families we serve.

Operating during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been tremendously challenging and has pushed us to the brink. The reasons are many, but straightforward.

During the depths of the pandemic, we were simultaneously faced with increased health, safety, and cleaning costs while at the same time experiencing declining enrollments, our primary source of revenue. Thankfully, federal stabilization grant funds have helped us to keep the lights on and continue to serve Aquidneck Island’s working families.

We are now faced with yet another crisis. Child care educators are some of our state’s lowest paid workers, making on average just over $12 per hour. With a nationwide staffing shortage, many child care educators are leaving for jobs in retail and other sectors that are offering better hourly wages, signing bonuses, and other incentives.

When a child care educator leaves a program, it often means that we must reduce hours or close classrooms altogether. That in turn means we are unable to accommodate parents who need reliable child care options so they can get to work.

Sandpipers currently has more than 40 children, 20 of whom are infants, on our waitlist due to our inability to fully staff our classrooms. I have also found it difficult to assist families who are seeking care in the future because I cannot assure them a space will be available due to not knowing whether we will have enough staff.

Without reliable child care options, many parents will have to reduce their hours or drop out of the workforce. This is a real problem for our employers, particularly in the hospitality sector, which has indicated that a lack of reliable, affordable child care options is hurting their ability to find workers.

We are fortunate to have some $1.1 billion in unused ARPA funds to help us get through COVID-19 and build back stronger.

Gov. Daniel McKee has proposed using $13 million of ARPA funds to immediately provide Pandemic Retention Bonuses of $2,000 for Rhode Island’s approximately 8,200 full and part-time child care educators who stay in the workforce. This will be a huge, short-term help to retain our child care educators and reward them for the hard work they’ve put in as essential workers throughout the pandemic.

The General Assembly should also consider expanding Child Care Assistance Program eligibility rates so more working families can access affordable child care.

Affordable, quality child care is essential to working parents and our economy. Now is the time for the General Assembly to return to session and put stimulus funds to work to shore up Rhode Island’s child care infrastructure.

Cali Boimila is the director of Child & Family’s Sandpipers Early Learning Center in Middletown.