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As costs rise, parents may be facing what's called a child care cliff


If you buy pretty much anything, then you know that inflation has been a big issue for some time now. But even as some costs have been easing, costs for child care have been climbing at nearly double the rate of inflation. And now parents could be facing what's being called the child care cliff. Twenty-four billion dollars in federal funding for child care expires at the end of next month. That's money that helped keep child care providers at work during the pandemic and then afterward. We'd like to understand what could happen, so we've called Dr. Julie Morita. She's executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She's also a pediatrician and a mom, and she's with us now. Dr. Morita, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

JULIE MORITA: Thanks so much for having me this morning.

MARTIN: So I think people who have young children already know that child care in the U.S. can be expensive, can be difficult to access. But for people who don't know, can you kind of put a frame around it? I mean, what is the general situation, and what could happen when this specific funding ends?

MORITA: Right. So, you know, as you pointed out, I am a mother. I'm a pediatrician. I'm also a public health official. And I know firsthand that caregiving really does make everything possible. And what the pandemic did - it really made clear how essential it is. So even before the pandemic, for generations, the ability to afford child care has really been determined by factors such as race and income. And providers are often women of color and immigrants who've not received livable wages or essential benefits like health insurance. So health care costs increased by over 20% from 2005 to 2021. And low-income families can sometimes pay as much as five times what higher-income families pay as a portion of their incomes. So the cost of child care is just extraordinarily high and often makes it inaccessible for many.

MARTIN: So now the estimates are telling us, what about if this funding ends? How - what could the immediate impacts be, and for whom?

MORITA: Sure. The - what we know is that with - the American Rescue Plan Act covered about $24 billion for stabilization of funding for child care providers. And if that funding goes away without any kind of additional support, over 3 million children could actually lose care to access - access to care - and over 200,000 child care providers could lose their jobs in addition to 70,000 child care facilities closing.

MARTIN: What - so what are the prospects that any of that federal funding that was delivered to child care providers over the last three years will be extended?

MORITA: That's our hope, is that some of this funding will actually be extended. The current Biden administration has really done a lot of things to actually try to strengthen child care supports, but it is require - it does require direct infusion of resources and dollars to help stabilize the child care sector.

MARTIN: Would you use the word crisis to describe what could happen if that funding disappears?

MORITA: Well, I think the pandemic really did make clear how dependent we all are on child - the child care system. It really is a public good that boosts our economic participation in growth, workforce development and child well-being. Without an additional infusion of resources, millions of children could really lose access to the care, and that impacts their families as well in so many other ways.

MARTIN: And just - we only have a couple of seconds left, but what are some of the other things that need to happen so that kids who need to be in safe, healthy and nurturing environments will be in those?

MORITA: I mean, I think, really, there has to be the infusion of resources. There's also an executive order that was passed by the administration and some considerations for HHS to strengthen some of the federal resources. But states can do other things to strengthen their child care sectors, as well, and parents - so parents can actually retain the care that they need for their children, and our children can really grow up to be healthy - mentally, physically, emotionally. All those things are really impacted significantly by the availability of child care.

MARTIN: That is Dr. Julie Morita, executive director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Dr. Morita, thank you so much.

MORITA: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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