August 17, 2021
Cheryl A. Oldham
Vice President of Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Senior Vice President of Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Finding quality, affordable childcare has long been a barrier for many working parents looking to re-enter or remain in the workforce. The COVID-19 public health crisis has only exacerbated this issue, pushing an already fragile childcare system to its capacity.
There is no silver bullet that will address every aspect of the problem at hand. However, with changes to government policy, support from the business community and collaboration with childcare providers, it is possible to find a way forward. Read on for insights from business and government leaders who are improving childcare accessibility for working families.
Increasing Childcare Access Is Key to Returning Parents to the Workforce
As a single mom, Alessandra Lezama, founder and CEO of TOOTRiS, experienced firsthand the challenges of childcare in the workforce, both with her own family and with offering childcare benefits to her employees. She developed TOOTRiS, an on-demand childcare portal, as a solution for employers, working parents and childcare providers alike.
“[Amid the pandemic], employers have recognized that the workforce that has completely dropped out and/or significantly reduced their hours at work has been primarily women and primarily due to their childcare responsibilities,” said Lezama. “In order to reset that economy ... it’s imperative that their family unit is in a good place.”
“Employers are proactively looking to engage with us … to see what best way to structure that childcare as a benefit,” she added, noting that companies can choose to contribute to enrollment fees or simply provide their employees the childcare resources they need.
Businesses Can Attract and Retain Top Talent by Offering Childcare Benefits
While organics company Dr. Bronner’s has long offered childcare as an employee benefit, they have expanded their benefits amid the pandemic.
“[Our] turnover is very low … and a lot of it has to do with being able to keep our best employees,” explained Lilia Vergara, director of human resources at Dr. Bronner’s. “It has helped us retain some of those parents that otherwise would have left because they have those responsibilities to be at home and take care of their kids.”
“If employers are not ready to take childcare and make it part of their benefits package, they’re going to be the exception,” added Lezama. “It’s not just a family issue, it’s a business issue.”
There Is Bipartisan Support to Transform the Childcare System
In addition to businesses supporting working parents seeking childcare, federal and state policies also play a crucial role in the process. Despite legislative challenges and differences of opinion in how to achieve the goal, there is bipartisan support to transform the childcare system into one that works better for working American families.
“As we think about childcare as a workforce issue, I think there is agreement, no matter what your party affiliation … that early childhood development matters,” emphasized Laura Kaloi, partner at Stride Policy Solutions LLC. “There’s agreement that we do not have the early childcare workforce that we need, the qualified people to actually provide the childcare.”
Abby McCloskey, founder of McCloskey Policy LLC, noted that there is increasing support to offset childcare costs directly by allowing parents to choose from a variety of childcare options, such as religious providers, center-based care and home care.
“Expanding the child and dependent tax credit, and increasing its refundability to help those at the low end of the income spectrum for whom childcare is most out of reach … would ideally have broad support,” McCloskey explained.
Strengthening the pipeline of qualified providers would also have a positive impact on the industry. Kaloi noted that federal incentives to help state governments achieve this goal, including building paths to professional degrees, could go a long way.
In addition to supporting the talent pipeline, Kaloi noted that the federal government can “continue to incentivize and support both employers … and childcare providers in their communities … to create these solutions.”
From the Series