Jackie Speier

Jackie Speier

Continued concern for child care services in San Mateo County led to a roundtable discussion between industry leaders, parents and U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier in hopes of creating a sustainable and equitable access to local child care for family, providers and future employees.

“What we need to do in this county is bring everyone together in leadership, in schools, in cities, the county with providers and parents. Let’s craft what the solution should be in San Mateo County,” Speier, D-San Mateo, said. “Let’s make it a goal that every child in San Mateo County is not going to go wanting for child care and pre-K.”

When the pandemic first struck the region, Christine Padilla, director of Build Up for San Mateo County’s Children, said various county agencies were challenged with building a safety net for providers under immense financial strain as enrollment was cut to abide by health guidelines but sanitation and safety practices increased costs.

The county responded, creating a $2 million Child Relief Program which offered $10,000 grants to family care homes and up to $55,000 to large centers.

“Child care wasn’t in the emergency plans so luckily there were so many people who cared so much from different organizations that came together,” Padilla said. “Other than that it would have been quite a scramble.”

The funds helped keep children enrolled in learning hubs, often pods of around 12 peers to one teacher or caregiver. Matched with federal loans, many providers were able to keep their doors open.

David Fleishman, executive director of the Child Care Coordinating Council, said roughly 970 San Mateo County children were enrolled in child care programs in March, receiving roughly $1.1 million state subsidies for their slots. But with a waitlist of 1,735, the county would need an investment of $35 million to serve the wait-listed children alone for a year, he said.

Fleishman also noted waitlists only account for children whose parents are in the know about programs.

“Those are people who are connected enough to know to get on a waitlist so there’s by far not an accurate number of what the need is,” Fleishman said.

Echoing Fleishman, Padilla said latest studies estimate a shortage of roughly 11,000 child care slots in the county. And that number is expected to increase given the number of child care facilities that have closed, unable to survive the pandemic.

Highlighting findings from a survey by the San Mateo County Office of Education, Speier said 45% of child care providers in the county have less than one month reserves, nearly 40% have COVID-19 expenses still needing to be addressed and 85% are making less income than before the pandemic.

Keeping programs open and children enrolled will require continued financial support from public and private sectors with little barriers to accessing the funds, agreed the roundtable. Additional funding will also help to boost the dwindling pipeline of teachers and employees who often can’t afford to live in the area while earning minimum wage or the industry standard pay of $18.

The roundtable also agreed on the need for legislators to recognize the cost of living differs by region when creating, for instance, subsidy programs tied to federal or state standards. Taking a local approach is vital for ensuring families of all income levels have access to the child care they need, rather than being forced to travel long distances to keep kids enrolled and at pace.

Looking at immediate assistance, Speier noted families with young children should also expect to receive their monthly child tax credit payments of $300 per child beginning June 15. The payments will be in addition to the child tax credit parents can claim when filing their taxes annually.

While still too early to tell what the effect of the additional federal support will be, Karen Pace, who manages strategic development for All Five preschool in Menlo Park's Belle Haven neighborhood, said many low-wage families are under so much financial strain it’s unlikely the dollars will be directed to child care needs.

“I would love to think that that $300 could go to our child care but these people need food and need to pay their electric bill,” Pace said. “Child care is so incredibly important but in Maslow’s Hierarchy it’s not the first level.”

Having held the listening session, Speier said she plans to take local concerns back to Washington where an infrastructure bill is being considered. Like local advocates, Speier argues that child care should be a focus in the bill, suggesting $700 billion be spent on child care improvements over the next 10 years.

Doing so would reduce family contributions to child care to 7% of their income, saving roughly $14,000 annually, Speier said.

The investment would also allow the more than 2 million women pushed out of work during the pandemic back into the workforce, she said, echoing participants who called the child care crisis a women’s issue. Now in what Speier called the “she-cession,” female employment levels have fallen to lows last reported in 1988.

“There’s been a sea change and we’ve got to step up and do the right thing,” Speier said, noting 90% of the jobs created in the infrastructure bill would go to men. “It’s time we speak up long, loud and hard about this because if we don’t demand it we’re not going to get it. It’s that simple.”

sierra@smdailyjournal.com

(650) 344-5200 ext. 106

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(1) comment

AllAreWelcome

When the average home price is $2m in the county, you can forget about in home daycares. It doesn't make financial sense. They are slowly going to go away. We need to try to keep the ones we have and then build new facilities ASAP. Right now I bet the number of available spots is going down, it's not even stable. Need to stabilize and then start going up. More facilities like Menlo Children's Center that are locally subsidized seem like a good idea.

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