Even before the pandemic, Michiganders had trouble accessing child care services. Here’s why local moms say that’s shaping their vote in November.
MUSKEGON, MI — Pricilla Fernandez is a part-time lab assistant in Upper Michigan, but because her department is short-staffed, she’s needed to take more hours during the pandemic.
“My daughter just had surgery,” she explained. “It’s hard for me to find someone I trust to take care of my kids, to take care of her … she needs assistance right now.”
She said it’s been tough finding somewhere she could trust because she worries about whether private child care options are licensed by the state, and her children, while under ten, are too old to qualify for some of the few services available in Muskegon.
“In Muskegon, in this area, we don’t have a lot of choices. We need more child care services,” she said. “My only option right now is my sister.”
Even before the pandemic, America’s child care system was broken, as Vox reported. Costs for child care can be higher than $1,000 per month, but operates on razor-thin margins. This is because child care is an expensive service to provide. Even paying caregivers minimum wage, most child care services don’t have cash on hand to weather a financial crisis.
Enter the pandemic, and the capacity of child care service providers gets slashed to maintain social distancing.
That’s driving Michigan moms like Fernandez to consider child care a top priority during an election year when there is also a pandemic. She says she’ll be voting for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in November because of how comprehensive his child care plan is for families.
By incentivizing the creation of new child care facilities, Joe Biden’s caring economy plan is something Fernandez is hoping for.
Where Child Care Is “Like a Lottery”
Even where child care options are more prevalent, getting access to them can pose a considerable challenge to parents. Tiffany Simmons of Taylor also plans to vote for Biden as the next president to usher in universal pre-K and programs that will recognize the contribution of educators to the greater system of child care.
Simmons’ unusual hours working a swing shift make it hard for her to find providers even in Metro Detroit.
“The head start programs that have always been in my neighborhood, it’s like a lottery,” Taylor explained. “When I was a single mom, you had to work to pay for your child care and you needed the child care to go to the job to pay for the child care. It’s just an awful cycle.”
And the pandemic has made the situation worse.
“If she catches the flu, if she catches a bug, it shuts our entire house down, and that was before the pandemic,” she said. “My biggest fear is sending her back to school, because she can’t manage to put on her socks in the morning, so having her put on her mask and use hand sanitizer and I’m on my way to work and have to think about if she’s following protocol? That’s a lot of pressure to put on an 11-year-old.”
Under Biden’s proposal, mothers like Simmons would have 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to care for family members ill with anything from the novel coronavirus to the seasonal flu.
Biden’s Vision for the Caring Economy
Biden groups jobs like educators, nursing home attendants, and daycare workers as a broader “caring economy” — the sector of the economy dedicated to caregiving.
Biden proposes a $775 billion proposal to address child care and elder care in America, including implementing universal pre-kindergarten education and improving support to child care facilities. His plan would also support informal caregivers like extended family members with a $5,000 tax credit.
“If we truly want to reward work in this country, we have to ease the financial burden of care that families are carrying,” Biden said in a speech announcing the plan. “And we have to elevate the compensation, benefits, and dignity of caregiving workers and early childhood educators.”
Today’s Caring Economy
But as of now no plan similar to Biden’s has been proposed by the current administration. In fact, the lack of cohesive federal response from the Trump Administration to the pandemic has pushed the caring economy to the brink of collapse in some areas.
Christina Roach-Jacobs runs the Christian daycare Hug-a-Bug in Westland. Reopening to essential workers in May was a mixed experience for her.
“I am happy to see the noises and laughs of children again,” she told The ’Gander. “[But] it’s always been frustrating that the state and government really haven’t supported child care centers. The staff have degrees and make just pennies over minimum wage. You can go flip a burger and make more money per hour. You can work at Target and make more money. Teachers do this job for the love of others. It is a gifted compassion.”
As The ’Gander reported, nearly half of day cares, preschools, and child care facilities had to close in America due to the pandemic, and Roach-Jacobs is among the nearly 540,000 child care workers in America with questions on where to find financial relief for her business.
Rhian Allvin, CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), told Vox that a Biden administration can’t come soon enough.
“It’ll be too late for a bailout in January,” Allvin said. “We need that money now.”
And what relief has been available through both previous and proposed coronavirus relief packages targeted at the caring economy hasn’t been nearly enough to make up for continual neglect and disinvestment from the government, said Roach-Jacobs.
“The fact that child care centers do not make a lot of money in general will be really hard on them,” she said. “If they had extra money in their account that is going to bills with no money coming, then they won’t be able to fix building issues. I know that this is my issue. Our center did not qualify for a small business loan. Not sure why.”