By Jackalyn Carione
We’re providing regular updates on issues affecting children and families in Hawaiʻi. This week, we’re starting with a topic on the mind of many families: child care.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, working parents and caregivers have been working double time to ensure their children are learning and staying healthy. Now, as the country begins its phased opening, parents and caregivers are faced with a tremendous dilemma if they have to go back to work but have no child care. In Hawai‛i, this issue is particularly prominent; even before the pandemic, its child care system was fragile and didn’t have enough providers to meet the demand. Pre-pandemic, for each DHS-regulated child care seat, there were four children under the age of six competing for it . Recent news articles show that without the appropriate support for child care providers in Hawai‛i, many face the risk of closing permanently and leaving families in an even more vulnerable position than before coronavirus.
Before the crisis, roughly 44,000 children birth to age 5 in Hawai‘i attended child care each week so their parents were able to work. Without assistance to keep child care providers afloat and safe for children, recent reporting shows that people will not be able to resume work and the economy will not reopen.
Groups like the Working Families Coalition and Hawaiʻi Early Childhood Action Alliance have worked diligently to prepare recommendations for the government to protect child care in the state. With more businesses allowed to open this week, this critical issue will become more pressing. These organizations are urging the state government to act now and support child care.
Right now, families can apply for Child Care Connection Hawaiʻi (CCCH) subsidies. This program has expanded its eligibility during the COVID-19 crisis by eliminating its income cap, suspending activity requirements, waiving subsidy co-payments, and allowing families to hold spots. This subsidy can help many families but is not enough to support all the families and child care providers in Hawai‛i.
Hawai‛i Children’s Action Network Executive Director Deborah Zysman told Hawaiʻi Public Radio that “the margins for child care were very tight even before [COVID-19], so without additional financial support, in general, child care providers cannot reopen." HCAN is advocating for more to be done on the state level to support child care. Anyone can join HCAN’s movement by getting involved, staying safe, and putting keiki first.
Recent news articles on child care and reopening the economy:
The COVID-19 crisis has brought child care to the forefront. Across the country, many child care providers have closed or greatly downsized due to the pandemic. Now, states are begin to reopen, but with schools and child care providers still closed, parents will not be able to leave their children to go back to work. The federal CARES Act allocated funding to the Child Care and Development Grant and the Head Start program. However, opinion writer Jennifer Rubin argues that this is not enough to keep child care providers afloat while closed. Save the Children Action Network found in a national poll that “87% of voters support providing enough federal assistance during the crisis to ensure current child care providers are able to make payroll and pay other expenses, such as rent and utilities.” Before reopening the economy, Rubin says child care needs to be addressed with a plan on how to rebuild and expand it.
With stay at home orders in place in Hawaiʻi, child care providers are struggling to stay afloat. Before coronavirus, the demand for child care in Hawaiʻi surpassed the amount of child care providers available. Now with many child care providers downsizing or staying closed, Hawaiʻi Public Radio reports that child care is facing critical issues.
Kamaʻaina Kids, a large child care provider in Hawaiʻi, has had to lay off 500 employees and reduce their capacity from 10,000 children to about 600. Providers have also increased their operating hours for essential workers, greatly increasing the cost for parents.
Other childcare providers who do not have as many resources as larger providers are facing even more challenges. HCAN Executive Director Deborah Zysman said, “Many [providers], especially our neighbor islands are actually just often a woman, providing child care out of her home,” she said. “Those are frankly the ones that you're most concerned about. And we're worried that they may not have as many resources to be able to know how to tap into things like the federal monies.”
HPR reports that the Hawaiʻi Department of Human Services has received almost $12 million for child care subsidies from the federal government. In response, Hawaiʻi has asked the federal government for families to be able to use the subsidies at more than one provider so that COVID-19 doesn’t bankrupt or permanently close any child care providers.
In the White House’s plan for a phased reopening, child care is listed as a “Phase Two” priority despite child care being essential to the economic recovery of the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have stated that "community settings where children are cared for" is a first priority in reopening the country.
Child care is important because 67% of American children under six have both parents in the workforce. Early Care and Education Consortium (ECEC) Executive Director Radha Mohan said, "Without a sufficient level of quality child care in this country, families will be unable to return to work, which will significantly stifle America’s economic rebound when it desperately needs to get back on track." Organizations like ECEC want Congress to take action to mitigate the current child care crisis and are recommending policies to make child care a top priority.
 Committee for Economic Development. 2019. Childcare in State Economies, Hawaiʻi. https://www.ced.org/assets/reports/childcareimpact/fact_sheets/revised/Hawaii%20Fact%20Sheet%201312019.pdf