It’s already difficult enough to find daycare and preschool options, let alone affordable care, around the country. But, we might not have hit rock bottom yet—the quickly approaching “childcare cliff” is on the minds of parents and daycare providers alike, as national funding ends at the end of September.

It is expected to cause 3.2 million children to be without care, just as the new school year is getting underway. 

In addition, the childcare workforce— one of the slowest to recover from pandemic issues—is facing 232,000 workers losing their positions with the upcoming changes. Providers in Arkansas, Montana, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington D.C. might be particularly vulnerable, according to a June report from The Century Foundation, where licensed programs might be cut in half. Another 14 states face a one-third reduction in care options, they add.

“Our findings underscore the urgent need for immediate funding and long-term comprehensive solutions at the federal level that offer safe, nurturing, and affordable childcare options to every family,” the report urges policymakers. It’s a topic of conversation for parents who work around the country—the foundation says a “strong majority” are concerned about the cliff, and want leaders in office who prioritize affordable and accessible care, according to one poll.

The funding issues might prove to be devastating to an already struggling industry, as childcare workers and teachers have been at the lead of the workplace burnout issue, and the childcare sector already struggled to hire good staff. Since pandemic expectations rose, from sanitizing desks to no paid parental leave in some cases, childcare sites already struggled to keep high-quality staff employed—and low wages haven’t helped either.

With the average childcare provider pay sitting at $14 per hour on average in the U.S., according to ZipRecruiter, some daycare workers who face long hours and tough working conditions are making less than a weekend teenage date night babysitter.

So, given this, what can parents and childcare providers do? Some say it’s time to start looking for a job, which doesn’t help the families that providers have cared for and come to know and love, but might be a must due to the budget cuts. Others, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Tina Smith push concerned citizens to appeal to politicians, calling on President Joe Biden and others to make “big structural reforms and long-term funding” to fix a permanently broken system.

But for parents who might not have care in just three short weeks, and providers who might not be able to support their own families, such a large and vague suggestion gives little relief to a nearing and devastating issue. The cascade effect of this, The Century Foundation concludes, is that more parents, particularly mothers, are likely to have to leave the workforce or reduce their hours — a cost they say might equal $9 billion in lost earnings, and impact $10.6 billion in economic activity each year.

Parents and providers need their daycares to stay open, so parents can go to work knowing their kids are well cared for, not another cliff or crisis to navigate. Time will tell if lawmakers will step up for these families instead of failing them.