Weekly Columns

Over two-thirds of American children have all available parents in the workforce. At the height of the economic shutdown that resulted from the COVID-19 public health emergency, over 800 child care providers in Arkansas closed their doors. 

A March survey of Arkansas child care centers by the National Association for the Education of Young Children found that 32 percent would not survive closing for more than two weeks without significant public investment. 

According to Arkansas respondents in a second survey in April, 34 percent of child care programs were either completely closed or open only for children of essential workers.

That means many moms and dads have been left trying to be full-time caregivers to their kids while still also attempting to do their day jobs, which makes for an impossible decision for those in jobs where telework is not an option.

As we’ve begun to reopen the economy, there are many parents struggling to return to their previous child care arrangements or find new ones in order to get back to work themselves. This is a tremendous challenge for families in Arkansas and across the country, and the impact will be felt outside of individual homes since parents’ inability to obtain safe, affordable and reliable care for their children will ultimately hamper our economic recovery.

This crisis has taught us a great deal, especially when it comes to certain parts of our society and economy that we now realize are integral to our way of life.

The necessity of accessible, suitable child care options for hardworking families is one such lesson that has become abundantly clear. It is one we must take to heart and commit to address as a society.

As a dad, grandfather and employer, I’ve seen firsthand how this situation plays out among families and in the workplace. That’s why I’m working to help find solutions for Arkansas’s parents and kids.

One form of assistance came recently as the state of Arkansas announced it was allocating $41 million in funding made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help child care providers continue to offer services to our state’s families, including the ability to offer higher reimbursement rates and extra money to cover more extensive cleaning procedures or hire more caregivers.

According to our state’s child care industry, this was welcome relief and support. It’s important to build on that with even further assistance in order to ensure these businesses and their workforces can continue to remain operational in the coming months as we proceed with our coronavirus response and recovery efforts. 

That’s why I’ve now also co-sponsored the Back to Work Child Care Grants Act of 2020 which would assist child care providers in continuing to offer critical, affordable services for working families during the COVID-19 emergency.

This bill would provide child care operations and facilities with financial assistance for nine months, allow states to design plans that fit their specific needs and send funds to child care providers more quickly without administrative red tape, all while helping to protect children and workers.

It’s vital that we ensure hardworking parents in Arkansas and across the country are able to return to work when conditions allow.

One major element we must address in order for that to happen is the ability to access safe, adequate child care because that will enable parents to get back to work with peace of mind about the wellbeing of their kids. We must keep working toward that end if we are to make progress on getting our economy and way of life back in any meaningful way.