PORTLAND, Ore — No child care, no economic recovery. That's the bottom line for Oregon's first district Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici when it comes to reopening the economy and recovering from the pandemic.
Bonamici was a guest this week on KGW's current affairs show, "Straight Talk," along with pre-school teacher, Caitlin Curtis.
Bonamici told show host, Laural Porter, access to high-quality affordable child care is essential as counties reopen.
"Parents are stressed and struggling. They can't go back to work with confidence and dedicate themselves to work if they can't find child care," she said.
Curtis is a pre-school teacher, with a college degree, at Joyful Noise Child Development Centers which operates four centers in the Portland metro area.
She and others were laid off when the pandemic forced centers to close in mid-March through May. She returned to work when they reopened as an emergency child care center on June 1.
She agrees, families she knows are having a tough time, navigating working from home, coordinating schedules for distance learning for their children and sometimes also caring for young children.
"So, it's really important we get funding so that we can recover from this hit we've taken from COVID-19, but also to create a sustainable child care system going forward," Curtis said.
Bonamici emphasized Oregon's child care system was already in crisis before the pandemic. All 36 counties in Oregon were considered child care deserts for infants and toddlers, meaning there was only one child care slot for every three children who need care.
Now, many child care providers are on the brink of permanent closure because of the pandemic.
"The system is broken in three ways," Bonamici said. Rep. Bonamici released an in-depth report this week on the state of child care in Oregon and across the nation.
The report, Child Care in Crisis: Solutions to Support Working Families, Children and Educators, outlines three problems.
Significant unmet need in Oregon, the high cost of child care putting high-quality child care out of reach for many families, and low pay for child care workers and educators.
"Now, when you add in the pandemic, it exacerbates all three of these problems," she said.
According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, in April, 60% of child care providers nationwide were closed.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children reports only 11% of providers feel confident they could survive a prolonged closure without support.
Congresswoman Bonamici is pushing for $50 billion in direct grant funding to help child care providers of all types cover operating expenses and safely reopen and operate. Its part of the Child Care is Essential Act.
She admits it's a lot of money, but says it's not as much as Congress spent to save the airline industry from the economic fallout caused by the pandemic.
"The airline industry is important. But, so are our children," she said.
Bonamici also called fixing the child care system a racial issue.
"A lot of child care workers are women and particularly black women and women of color. And having pay they deserve, a living wage, is a critical piece of this as well," she said.
According to the Child Care in Crisis report, the average annual income of early childhood educators is $26,740, and nationwide they are paid an average $10.72 an hour.
“You have people like Caitlin, people who are taking care of our children, our future leaders, the next generation and making very low pay.
In fact, many of them qualify for public assistance themselves,” she said.
The high cost of child care is another challenge. "Along with other barriers, families of color face income gaps that make quality child care even less affordable," Bonamici said.
Caitlin Curtis is the Chair of the Oregon Association for the Education of Young Children's public policy committee.
"Child care has been underfunded and undervalued for decades. Before the pandemic, we were finally getting our field on the national stage, so having to close and shutdown has really made our field take a big hit," she said.
Bonamici said how the US spends federal dollars is a statement of our values. She called on Congress to invest money in the next generation to make sure they have a good start in life.
"We need to make high-quality child care affordable and accessible to everyone," she said.
Straight Talk airs Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 6:30 pm., and Monday at 4:30 a.m.
It's also available as a podcast.