A child, of preschool or elementary, age plays with toys

The Emergency Child Care Initiative has worked throughout the pandemic to help critical child care programs stay afloat.

As businesses reel from the financial wake of the pandemic, one sure path to local economic recovery is ensuring that child care is available for parents to return to work, stabilize household incomes and increase regional spending.

Child care providers have been our unsung heroes throughout the pandemic. They pivoted to serve essential workers, opened their doors despite schools being closed, and operated with decreased revenue and increased costs. They are exhausted, financially strapped, and now, like many sectors, are faced with a limited workforce.

The majority of child care businesses are owned, operated and staffed by women, many of whom are people of color. These women have been the backbone to Santa Barbara County getting through the pandemic while also doubling down on their own child care and work responsibilities.

The Emergency Child Care Initiative, formed in March of 2020, recognized the critical need for child care programs to stay afloat throughout the pandemic and lent a helping hand. ECCI took action and provided support to ensure that essential workers had child care available to them so they could continue to serve our community.

ECCI also convened county, state and local organizations to coordinate data, information and resources to help local agencies and child care providers navigate the complexities of operating during the pandemic so children could continue to learn and grow, parents could work and child care programs could stay open.

Thanks to ECCI’s collaborative work, our community has lost far fewer child care programs than have other counties. Yet, even with the intensive support from ECCI, programs have struggled to maintain operations and have not been able to overcome the financial toll of operating under the pandemic guidelines. The Center for American Progress estimates a 54% increase in operating costs for child care centers and 75% increase for family child care programs during the pandemic.

In ECCI’s recent survey of local providers, the average lost revenue for private child care centers is $68,000 and $14,000 for family child care programs. One provider wrote, “Prior to the pandemic, our program could financially support five open classrooms, 12 teachers and 'other' budget expenditures as well as stay open until 5:30 p.m. Now, we are down to three classrooms, four teachers and closing at 3 p.m. We are not covering payroll. Every month we dip into savings to cover payroll and all other expenses."

In response to this critical need, on Oct. 19, the Board of Supervisors approved setting aside $2 million of the American Rescue Plan Act funds to provide critically needed relief and recovery support for the child care sector based on ECCI’s recommendation. The Board of Supervisors will vote to finalize authorization of this funding in the coming months.

This historical investment will provide needed relief to stabilize the child care sector, which in turn will support parents’ ability to return to work and children’s healthy development. The developmental, cognitive and social/emotional benefits of high quality child care for children are critical, particularly during times of stress and challenge.

The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce invited ECCI to participate in a robust discussion about child care at a recent business and government roundtable meeting. The Chamber’s support of this initiative has been key in involving business leaders and community stakeholders in the unified effort to stabilize the child care sector in order to rebuild and recover from the pandemic. ECCI is also asking each city to contribute an additional collective $500,000.

The Chamber, business leaders and working parents all play a role in conveying the importance of this investment so we can collectively rise up and recover from this pandemic.

Authored by Eileen Monahan and Holly Goldberg, with funding received from the Santa Barbara Foundation and First 5 Santa Barbara County.