At the end of September, funding from the pandemic that has been supporting child care centers is slated to end, and around 3 million children might be without a spot due to the looming child care cliff.

On September 13, 35 Senators and 78 Representatives, including Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) jointly introduced the Child Care Stabilization Act. The Act would extend federal funding for child care established during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is set to expire at the end of September according to a press release from Sen. Murray’s Office.

“This is an urgent economic priority at every level: child care is what allows parents to go to work, businesses to hire workers, and it’s an investment in our kids’ futures,” said Sen. Murray. 

Under the Child Care Stabilization Act, $16 billion in mandatory funding each year for the next five years would continue the Child Care Stabilization Grant Program.

Should the Act not go into effect before the looming deadline, $50 million allocated to child care will no longer be available to pay child care staff to keep centers afloat. For weeks, multiple legislators have been calling for a plan for a while to keep America’s parents at work because there is a very real possibility that parents are going to have to exit the workforce in droves, without other options for child care. As parents in many places around the country know, there are also year-long wait lists already in some centers and schools.

Senator Elizabeth Warren is calling on President Biden and other legislators to do something, specifically to allocate funding to this problem to keep working parents working. In her Op-Ed in CNN, she calls the system “badly broken” pointing to the fact that there’s been no sustainable system or federally funded child care in the U.S. and it’s showing.

“And even when families are lucky enough to score a spot, the costs are crushing,” she writes, referencing the fact that parents are spending more than a quarter of their income on child care, according to a survey. Additional reports from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that child care ranged from $4,810 for school age home based care in smaller counties, to $15,417 for infant care in a center in larger counties, according to adjusted prices in 2022 dollars.

Pediatrician and Mom Dr. Julie Morita told NPR that it’s simply inaccessible, and explained how the pandemic revealed how we just can’t work without child care. Parents who thought they could do both at the same time, even through virtual work, found themselves at their wit’s end trying to balance their families and their jobs, in scenarios that often didn’t go as smoothly as planned.

Instead, she says kids need “nurturing” and consistent child care options that allow the parents to focus on work. She calls for an “infusion of resources,” and references an executive order that the administration passed to potentially strengthen federal resources. But, she calls on states themselves to help as well, to ensure child care availability.

Parents might already be seeing evidence that the cliff is near, or that centers are already starting to “fall” off it. For example, a Michigan child care center has already expressed concern about closing three weeks ago, pointing to the funds drying up as the cause.

In Wisconsin, “pint-sized protestors” came out to make speeches and hold signs calling for the continuation of their child care subsidy program. The centers there used the money to pay for child care worker wages, rent, utilities, and personal protective equipment. Daycares across the state are looking at closing or raising tuition, making daycare even less affordable to struggling families.

So, what’s a parent to do? There are some tough decisions to make ahead if your child’s daycare is impacted. You can start preparing now, experts advise, by thinking through some questions including:

  • Should daycare cost be a part of your family planning decisions, including how many kids to have?
  • What backup care might be accessible to you, or could you start researching, in case the cliff does impact your center or services?
  • Would you consider quitting your job, changing jobs, or moving to find child care access or to take care of your kids?
  • How much more would you be able to pay, if needed, if tuition increases at your current center? 
  • Do you need to reallocate any expenditures you are making now to create a safety net for more expensive child care going forward?
  • Can you get on a waiting list for other child care centers in case yours closes?

Though it’s not anything parents want to think about given what we’ve already been through in the last few years, thinking ahead instead of relying on policymakers might be a must as the funding concludes. 

Here’s hoping the Childcare Stabilization Act will go into effect before the end of the month.

More on the childcare cliff

When federal pandemic-era funding dries up at the end of September, many families and childcare centers will be impacted. Here’s what to know.