Children don’t vote. They don’t make campaign contributions or have PACs. They don’t have an organization like AARP which successfully lobbies for seniors. Now there are several organizations which have stepped into the breach to fill that void statewide and locally noted in this column. So has President Joe Biden’s proposed jobs bill.
According to New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, “The most revolutionary part of President Biden’s agenda so far is his focus on a constituency that doesn’t write whiny op-ed columns, doesn’t vote, doesn’t hire lobbyists and so has been neglected for half a century: children. Biden’s proposal to establish a national pre-K and child care system would be a huge step forward for children and for working parents alike. It would make it easier for moms and dads to hold jobs, and above all it would be a lifeline for many disadvantaged children.”
American children ages 1-19 are 57% more likely to die than children in other rich countries because those countries provide universal health care for kids. The U.S. has some of the highest child poverty rates in the industrialized world because it doesn’t provide services that are routine in Canada and Europe. These are elements in Biden’s bill: universal access to high-quality pre-K for 3 and 4 year olds; affordable high quality child care.
Many early childhood programs pay for themselves when aimed at the most disadvantaged, because they reduce spending on criminal justice, special education, health care and other services.
The pandemic lockdown demonstrated how critical child care is for working parents of all incomes. Remote learning for young children made it a challenge to do one’s job at home. For parents who could not work from home it was an impossible situation. A response team made up of 4Cs (Child Care Coordinating Council), First 5 , San Mateo County, the San Mateo County Office of Education, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation came to the rescue so that child care remained open throughout the pandemic for essential, front-line workers.
The response team, in partnership with local city council members Giselle Hale of Redwood City and Amourence Lee of San Mateo, lobbied the county to allocate $2 million of CARES Act funds in August to create the Child Care Relief Fund. Grants from the fund provided one month of operating expenses (up to $55,000 for child care centers and $10,000 for family child care homes). In addition, a broad spectrum of donors contributed over $829,000 to the fund, including local companies, community foundations, cities, faith-based organizations and individuals. In response to additional outstanding need, the county contributed an additional $2.5million to the fund in November and December. The total of $5.3 million in grants to 287 child care programs (79 centers and 208 family child care homes) benefited over 8,000 of the county’s most vulnerable children. Members of the response team served as the fund’s advisory body and administrators alongside the San Mateo Credit Union and County Board of Supervisors. Job well done.
David Fleishman, head of 4Cs, points out that the availability of child care is necessary for working families and low income-wage earners, needed for the economy and our community to “re-open.” Child care helps mitigate equity issues regarding achievement and school-readiness gaps. Child care is overwhelmingly provided by women, the majority of which are low income .The pandemic has highlighted longstanding structural problems which impact child care. The lack of qualified workers and low wages for child care educators have continued to limit the expansion of services. The gap between what parents can afford to pay and the cost of child care is a persistent problem.
Children Now, an advocacy nonprofit statewide and beyond, issues an annual report card on the state of children in California. It reports that the average cost of center based child care is $16,000 a year compared to $10,000 a year average cost for one year at a four year college. In San Mateo County there is licensed child care space for only 27% of workers who need it.
As the county officially celebrates the Week of the Young Child we recognize how much more there remains to be done.
What’s our former state Sen. Jerry Hill up to these days? He will co-chair the statewide campaign against the Big Tobacco referendum of his flavored tobacco ban law that will be on the ballot at the next statewide election. That would be the recall election if it qualifies for the ballot.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at email@example.com.