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Congresswoman Katherine Clark seeks billions for child care infrastructure

Representative Katherine Clark is worried that many child care businesses won't survive the pandemic.
Representative Katherine Clark is worried that many child care businesses won't survive the pandemic.Associated Press

Representative Katherine Clark on Tuesday unveiled a new bill aimed at helping child care facilities safely reopen after coronavirus lockdowns and supporting early educators who work for them.

Called the Child Care is Infrastructure Act, the bill would invest $10 billion in child care over five years through competitive grants that help centers renovate their facilities and adapt to the pandemic. It would also reauthorize $200 million in grants to campus-based child care programs to better support students who are parents.

“It is long past time that we recognize this vital link to the education of our children, our economic opportunities, our future, and make sure we are supporting our economy by having affordable quality child care available to everyone,” Clark said in an online press conference with child care providers and parents. “The time is now to make these investments.”

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Child care providers and advocates have repeatedly warned that many centers will not survive a government-mandated shutdown, creating the risk that parents in already expensive and competitive markets like Massachusetts will no longer be able to find child care. At least 25 child care programs in Massachusetts have already warned the Department of Early Education that they may not reopen, a spokeswoman said.

“Early child care reform and private child care changes are essential for safeguarding children, families, and small businesses like mine who are part of the community and are essential to the economy,” said Jessica DeJesus Acevedo, who owns Little Star of Ours, a family child care in Cambridge.

A related Child Care is Essential bill — whose cosponsors include Clark and Senator Elizabeth Warren — would create a $50 million Child Care Stabilization Fund to help providers survive the pandemic crisis. Many child care providers rely solely on parents’ fees to operate. After being shut down for three months, they now face stringent new health and safety requirements for reopening that will force many of them to accept fewer children, further slashing their potential revenue.

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Sarah Sian, executive director of Open Center for Children in Somerville, said she will need her entire staff to reopen but she will be allowed to operate at only half capacity, cutting revenue in half.

“We will begin operating again at a loss of tens of thousands of dollars every month,” she said. “At that rate, we’ll burn through our reserves, potentially closing our doors again in a few months after 48 years in operation.”

And, she noted, she’s in a rare position to even have reserves. Many other providers do not.

“Federal dollars are critical to cover our losses until we can return to our full enrollment capacity,” Sian added. “We operate on the smallest of financial margins in the best of times.”

Clark noted that an industry that’s made up almost exclusively of women — 40 percent of whom are women of color — should no longer be treated as an afterthought. Small business providers should be helped to “reach their full potential as business owners,” she said. Her bill would provide $35 million to help early educators repay student loans or pursue additional degrees in early education.

“It is not a coincidence that child care is often thought of...as an accessory, not an essential part of our economy,” Clark said. “And as we address equality in this country, recognizing child care as an essential part of our economy and our communities in educating all of our children is going to be required.”

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Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert