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Child-Care Access Critical for AZ Parents to Return to Work

Childcare will be an important factor when Arizona parents need to return to work, but the COVID-19 crisis has sidelined many of the state's providers and caregivers. (lordn/Adobe Stock)
Childcare will be an important factor when Arizona parents need to return to work, but the COVID-19 crisis has sidelined many of the state's providers and caregivers. (lordn/Adobe Stock)

August 5, 2020

PHOENIX -- Children's advocates say thousands of Arizona parents who've lost jobs in the pandemic can't return to work until public officials resolve the challenges facing the child-care industry.

A report shows the COVID-19 crisis forced almost half of Arizona's licensed and regulated child-care providers to fully or partially close. Those still operating are at 40% of capacity or less, and have laid off hundreds of caregivers.

Kelley Murphy, a coordinator with the Arizona Early Childhood Alliance, said access to safe and affordable child care is essential to reopening Arizona's economy.

"This is a crisis that's looming," she said, "and if we don't address it, if we don't do something about it, when those folks are ready to go back to work, there won't be a system there to take children to. And so that's going to be a huge, huge issue."

The Alliance wants state officials to release the balance of the $88 million in child-care funds Arizona received through the federal CARES Act, and for Congress to include additional funding for providers in its next COVID-19 relief package.

While some child-care centers received money in the pandemic, Murphy said there is a renewed need for financial help, so they can hire staff and make necessary health and safety changes before they reopen.

"They have to keep them in smaller groups," she said. "There's equipment, PPE masks, there's sanitation requirements. These things cost additional money. They have to bring in additional staffing. And so, it's significantly more expensive to care for even the fewer number of kids."

Murphy said reliable child care will be necessary for the state to rebuild its work force. But without additional financial support, she predicted Arizona's child-care industry could collapse.

"We'd really like to see a grant program, similar to what the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] was," she said, "to help them offset their operational costs until we can get people back to work and actually paying for that child care themselves."

The Alliance is calling on state officials to immediately reopen applications for child-care grants, increase the per-child reimbursement rate, and waive child-care licensing fees for up to three years.

The AECA policy brief is online here, and a related infographic is at here.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ