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Child care funding ‘cliff’ is near. Advocates call on NC leaders to take action.

Charlotte Observer - 6/12/2024

Advocates have been talking about the child care funding cliff coming up at the end of June in North Carolina for months. And now it’s almost here.

Yet action has not been taken by lawmakers to address it, advocates said Wednesday morning as they gathered at Raleigh’s Freedom Park, less than a five-minute walk away from the Legislative Building.

“We have 18 days left before the funding” expires,” said Emma Biggs, a child care provider from Charlotte. “What is happening in our state is not just an injustice to our children and our families, our economy and our businesses, but it is actually criminal.”

“We already see child care centers ... closing their doors, they’re closing classrooms ahead of this funding cliff, because teachers are not waiting to see the writing on the wall. They’re hearing it and they are leaving,” said Biggs, who was one of many speakers at an event dubbed “Witness Wednesday.”

More than 60 people from a coalition of advocacy groups, faith communities and child care facilities called on lawmakers to take action to avoid the closure.

They said they are holding a “weeklong blitz” targeting Republicans, including House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, via phone calls every three minutes demanding action.

Why a child care funding cliff?

Child care facilities across the state received stabilization grants provided by Congress – and enhanced by COVID-19 pandemic aid allotted by lawmakers – that allowed them to pay employees, cover rent and mortgage costs and subsidize child care costs for some families. This helped raise child care workers’ pay by an average of $2 to $3 an hour.

Still, child care workers’ wages remained at a median of $14 an hour, as previously reported by The News & Observer.

The funding under these stabilization grants is set to expire at the end of the month. This is expected to lead to child care centers closing or raising tuition.

A survey of the state’s child care programs found 29% expect to close when the stabilization grants go away. That means 1,535 programs could close, which would take away 91,660 slots, The N&O reported.

Lost money

Insufficient child care availability costs the state $5.65 billion a year in lost economic activity, according to a report by the the U.S. Chamber Foundation, in partnership with the NC Chamber Foundation and NC Child.

“The health of North Carolina’s economy is directly tied to the strength of its workforce. This survey shows that our state is not realizing its potential when it comes to both families and economic competitiveness,” said Meredith Archie, president of the NC Chamber Foundation, according to a news release issued Wednesday by the NC Chamber.

“Affordable, quality child care supports working parents on the job, allows businesses to recruit and retain talent, and helps North Carolina children develop skills for success in school and life. The NC Chamber Foundation will continue to provide research to inform North Carolina leaders on this issue and support the business community in providing sustainable, long-term solutions.”

Budget priorities

Speakers at the event also criticized lawmakers’ funding priorities.

“We have a budget surplus because they (lawmakers) have a moral deficit,” said the Rev. Rob Stephens, NC Repairers of the Breach organizing committee coordinator, referencing a $1 billion budget surplus projected in the state.

“If you don’t pay for child care, you might have some extra money the next year. If you don’t cover your basic necessities, you might have a surplus the next year,” he said.

During a legislative short session like the one this year, lawmakers can amend the budget passed last year and fund programs.

After the presser, advocates — including from the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign, Repairers of the Breach, and Forward Justice — marched to the General Assembly.

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