The Chair of the Ways and Means Committee has proposed child care relief as an important part of the CARES Act federal funding initiative for Hawai‘i.
The proposed $15 million would go to the Department of Human Services (DHS) for child care, working coordination with federal funds (Child Care Development Block Grant, subsidies to families for child care), county funds (CARES Act grants programs to non-profits, private businesses, families), and private philanthropy.
Without immediate action, Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz says, 30% of child care providers may not re-open resulting in the loss of permanent child care seats. This squeezes an already strained child care sector that pre-COVID-19 had far fewer seats than needed by families across the state.
“It is critically urgent that we increase the availability of child care for the healthy growth and safety of our keiki so their parents can go back to work, and we can reopen the economy,” said Dela Cruz, Chair of the Ways and Means Committee.
The shortage of child care is more acute in rural areas, with Kauaʻi, Molokaʻi, and Lānaʻi having no infant-toddler centers.
“Child care is a foundational requirement to reopening our economy,” said Department of Human Services Director Pankaj Bhanot. “Without access to safe, healthy and affordable child care, working parents will not be able to return to full employment.”
The state faces a critical shortage of child care seats.
According to the University of Hawaiʻi Center on the Family, under the current COVID-19 restrictions, there are potentially four times more children under the age of 6 who need child care than there are available regulated child care seats.
Additionally, licensed infant-toddler center seats are available to serve only one out of every 37 children under the age of 3.
Of the approximately 900 DHS-regulated child care providers statewide, only 30% of child care providers were open in May, and those that were open were serving far fewer children than pre-pandemic. Of the remaining 70%, many were unsure when they will reopen or how they will financially manage.
During focus groups conducted in early June, child care providers that planned to reopen said in order to keep their business afloat, they are cutting program hours, raising tuition, limiting student capacity (i.e., smaller class sizes or a multi-site provider may only open some sites) and/or eliminating meal service.
“We are at a critical point of losing child care seats and experienced, qualified child care workers,” said Bhanot.