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‘Child care cliff’ hits women, rural areas hardest, as WVU experts call for permanent funding

An image showing children playing on a playground. A teacher, wearing khaki pants, a dark colored shirt, a maroon hat and a blue and white backpack, is helping a young girl with blonde hair.

The U.S. slid off a child care funding cliff when pandemic-era federal subsidies to support child care services expired on Sept. 30. With up to half of West Virginia’s child care centers expected to close as a result of the grants ending, WVU scholars of political science and education see challenges for parents, children, child care providers and businesses. (WVU Photo)

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With funding for thousands of day care centers now in jeopardy, West Virginia University experts said they believe child care should be treated as a public good — like K-12 education — with permanent funding support.

On Saturday (Sept. 30), $24 billion in pandemic relief from the Child Care Stabilization Program expired, potentially depriving millions of children of early learning development opportunities and forcing parents out of the labor force as they lose child care coverage.

William Franko, associate professor of political science and director of graduate studies at the WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, and Melissa Sherfinski, associate professor of early childhood and elementary education at the WVU College of Applied Human Sciences, are available to discuss drivers and solutions for the "child care cliff," as well as repercussions for families, businesses and workers.


“Child care employment crashed during the pandemic and has struggled to recover. As part of the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021, billions of dollars were sent to states to stabilize the child care industry. These funds expired on Saturday (Sept. 30), which will lead to thousands of child care center closures and millions of children without care. West Virginia is expected to lose half its licensed centers if additional funding isn’t provided.

“The underlying problem with the child care industry is that it is underfunded. Rather than treating child care as a public good, like we treat K-12 education, child care in the U.S. is more expensive than in any other advanced country in the world. This leaves many working families with difficult choices about whether to stay out of the workforce or to pay up to half of their income toward child care services.

“The solution is relatively straightforward. The industry needs a permanent source of public funding. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced legislation in April — the Child Care for Working Families Act — that would lower child care costs, increase access to centers and support child care workers. Unfortunately, Republican members of Congress who are focused on cutting government spending are unlikely to support a plan that would substantially improve child care funding, although some party members do acknowledge the problem.” — William Franko, associate professor and director of graduate studies, WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

“While young children are resilient, they thrive with continuity of care across environments. They need smooth transitions. The child care cliff has positioned millions of children in the U.S. to experience disruption with potentially negative effects on their behavior and learning.

“Women and particularly women of color are unduly affected. Women will be forced to change jobs, reduce work hours or leave the workplace to take care of their children. Furthermore, nearly all child care providers are women and about 40% of child care providers are women of color. Many of these women have children of their own, who are doubly affected by the cuts because their mothers will lose their employment and they will lose their child care opportunities.

“I am concerned about rural areas, including many places in West Virginia. These can be ‘child care deserts’ with only one child care center in commuting distance. If that center closes, there may be no viable options for local families. The effects of closures in rural communities may be particularly dire because families could be forced to move to places with child care opportunities, while businesses may be forced to move to places where full-time workers are available.

“I also expect to see ripple effects for groups like college and university students with children. First-generation college students and students with high levels of financial need may lose their dreams of college matriculation due to rising child care costs and lack of alternative child care spaces. And I foresee that in states like West Virginia where K-12 teachers receive relatively low pay, the increased cost of child care may cause teachers to leave the profession, especially combined with additional economic challenges such as expensive rent and home prices, and student loan repayments restarting.” – Melissa Sherfinski, associate professor, WVU College of Applied Human Sciences 

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics.  Search for an expert by name, title, areas of expertise or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVUToday.



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