Maryland parents face a looming crisis as federal support for child care expires at the end of September, leaving families with fewer options and potentially forcing many childcare facilities to close their doors. The expiration of pandemic-era grants totaling $37 billion will significantly impact the state’s child care landscape.
New data from The Century Foundation reveals that approximately 3.2 million children nationwide may lose their spots in child care. Maryland alone is projected to see over 69,000 kids losing access to childcare facilities. Moreover, more than 70,000 childcare facilities nationwide will likely close due to reduced funding.
Doug Lent, the communications director for the nonprofit Maryland Family Network, warns of the broad economic repercussions resulting from the reduction in funding. He explains, “We’re not only going to see a huge loss in the economy from all the childcare providers who are leaving the field, but we’re going to see parents leave the workforce in even bigger numbers than they have already because it’s cheaper to stay home than it is to go to work and pay for child care.”
The consequences of this funding cut go beyond the immediate economic impact. The childcare labor force has already suffered a significant blow since the onset of the pandemic. The number of childcare providers in the workforce, which peaked in February 2020, remains at 50,000 workers, smaller than before the pandemic. The Century Foundation report estimates that the expiration of the pandemic-era grants will further shrink the childcare labor force by an additional 230,000 jobs nationwide.
Childcare facilities have long struggled to operate with razor-thin profit margins, often hovering around less than 1%. Lent emphasizes that without expanded federal support, the industry’s future appears grim. He points out, “The current child care providers who can stay open will retire eventually. And why would a younger person get into that field when it doesn’t pay nearly enough to survive?”
To mitigate the effects of the impending crisis, Maryland offers a childcare scholarship program to help families cover the costs. In 2022, the eligibility for the scholarship was expanded to include families of four earning up to $90,000 annually. Lent urges parents to apply for the scholarship, even if they have been turned down in the past or believe they may not qualify. He stresses, “We are encouraging parents to apply again or apply for the first time to see if they do qualify because, otherwise, it’s just money that’s left on the table.”
Recognizing the situation’s urgency, the Maryland Family Network provides free assistance to parents in finding childcare options and navigating state support programs. They aim to support families in accessing the resources they need during this challenging time.
As the expiration of federal funding for childcare approaches, the childcare landscape in Maryland hangs in the balance. The potential loss of childcare facilities and the strain on families trying to secure adequate care for their children may have far-reaching consequences. Urgent action is needed to address this issue and ensure the well-being of Maryland’s parents and children.