By Eric D. Hargan, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services
Since September, HHS has been all over the country listening to parents, employers, child care providers, states and localities, tribal governments, and business leaders about how we can better support working families with regard to child care.
I had a chance to join Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson in Seattle, Washington, this week for the ninth of ten roundtables being held across the country to discuss improving access to affordable high-quality child care. We have now heard from almost a thousand stakeholders across the country and we expect to hear more through a Request for Information that we released last month on this issue.
What we’ve heard so far is that in one of the strongest labor markets in history, many working parents find it difficult to find and afford child care that meets their needs. And they often face tough choices in balancing work and caring for their children.
We heard from state leaders about how they have been spending the increases in their Child Care and Development Fund grant. Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, funding for the child care block grant has increased by a record 40 percent -- the largest expansion in the program’s history.
Even with this administration’s record increases in funding, the high cost of child care continues to be a problem for working families and the economy at large. In fact, the average annual cost of center-based child care for two children (an infant and a four year old) is more than what families spend on housing in more than 40 states. We also heard from the business community about the economic impact of child care. Insufficient child care costs an estimated $57 billion annually in lost earnings, productivity and revenue—and we have heard that some business are unable to fill jobs, especially those with second and third shifts, where child care during non-traditional hours is needed.
Child care providers are also feeling the crunch. Family child care providers in particular have told us about the difficulty of keeping and sustaining their businesses while dealing with all the paperwork and requirements. Providers of all kinds who wish to expand and serve more children often can’t find or keep talented staff because they often leave for higher-paying jobs.
The good news is there are bright spots across the country. Highlighting innovations was a key component of the child care roundtables. In Seattle, for example, we heard the CEO of Dick’s Drive-In discuss how she was using child care assistance—among other benefits—to attract and retain working parents. Another innovator talked about co-locating housing and early learning facilities and leveraging Washington State’s current grant for building child care facilities. The University of Washington shared a “video coaching” and online learning tool for child care providers to increase quality and provide on-the-job support.
At the roundtables, we heard about shared services models to support family child care providers with back-office accounting and business processes, transportation in rural areas and innovative online platforms to help child care workers learn and grow.
Throughout the roundtables, we also heard from many states who increased subsidy rates for child care providers, reduced waiting lists of families needing child care subsidies, supported quality and professional development for providers, and increased the number of children served with subsidized child care. At HHS, we are especially interested in hearing about ways to ensure regulatory and monitoring practices are not duplicative or inconsistent, and are not unnecessarily driving up the cost of providing care or pushing different types of providers—such as faith-based or family child care providers—out of the market.
This administration is committed to listening to parents, providers, businesses and states to help us develop policies that better support working families. We know there is much more work ahead, but we also know progress is being made in states and communities who are listening to what parents need.
Based on what we have seen across the country, we know this work will require strong cross-sector public-private partnerships between states and local governments, local programs, the business sector, philanthropies and parents. We look forward to engaging new and existing stakeholders to increase access and affordability to high-quality child care, so more families can take full advantage of the opportunities this economy affords while their children receive the great care they deserve.