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At What Cost?
Social safety net? More like social safety NOT! Three Covid-era programs keeping families above water will expire next month.
On October 1, a federal program that has kept child care centers from collapse will run out of money. A federal food program for children and mothers is also set to experience dramatic budget cuts that day. Also, student loans repayments will resume for the first time in three years.
Covid-19 is over. Not literally—cases of the virus are back on the rise—but in the expiration of Covid-era financial aid. The social safety net that lawmakers unfurled in 2020 and early 2021 has been unraveling ever since its introduction. Already, programs like eviction moratoriums, expanded child tax credits, and free school lunches look like relics of a more compassionate moment.
Next on the chopping block are Covid-era programs that fund child care, feed children, and pause student loan payments. Their disappearance next month is a broadside against working families, leaving some worse off than before the pandemic.
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The Next Child Care Crisis
There’s One Weird Trick for eliminating child poverty, and that’s giving families money. The U.S. dabbled in this thesis in 2021 with the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that helped shore up an economy hammered by Covid.
$24 billion of that went to child care centers. Those funds were split among more than 220,000 child care providers, employing more than 1 million workers and serving as many as 9.6 million children, per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The payout came at a critical moment for the child care industry. Already undersupported before Covid, child care centers struggled with razor-thin margins, often paying poverty wages to workers who provide some of the economy’s most essential labor. Covid’s first waves forced nearly 10 percent (approximately 20,000) of child care centers to permanently shut down, according to a June study from the Century Foundation.
ARPA funds staunched some of the industry’s Covid-era bleedout and allowed those 9.6 million children’s parents to work. The program wasn’t perfect. Child care workers’ wages are still shit and have stagnated relative to other fields post-Covid. Many child care centers remained closed, and the industry has approximately 40,000 fewer workers than it did pre-pandemic, according to the Washington Post. Child care costs rose at almost double the inflation rate over the past year, the Wall Street Journal reported, due to worker shortages and increased demand for enrollment (much of it from parents being instructed to return to offices).
But the program kept many child care centers in operation, and stabilized some tuition costs. Those prices are projected to rise after next month when the industry’s supports are kicked from beneath it.
When ARPA’s child care funds run out on Oct. 1, approximately 70,000 child care centers are expected to close, cutting off care for an estimated 3.2 million children, according to the Century Foundation study. Approximately 232,000 child care workers are projected to lose their jobs. Child care deserts will grow. Arkansas, Montana, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. are expected to lose half their child care centers. (The 19th News has a gutting story on the forthcoming fallout from just one of those closures: a Wisconsin daycare center whose end-of-ARPA struggles are being felt some 70,000 times over across the country.)
The toll for families could be catastrophic, forcing parents (especially mothers) to cut their hours, change their jobs, or leave the workforce altogether.
“I’ve called around, searched and searched and searched, and so far, nothing,” a surgical nurse who is eight months pregnant with her third child told the Washington Post last week. “I’m getting to the point where I’d rather quit my job and really struggle financially than keep having to worry about finding care.”
A paragraph that should really be its own post: underfunding child care isn’t just callous—it’s objectively terrible for the economy. A recent ReadyNation study estimated that child care gaps for children younger than three impede so much workplace productivity that they cost the U.S. $122 billion, annually. $23 billion of that loss is borne by businesses, resulting in an additional $21 billion loss of tax revenue. But it’s parents who shoulder most of the burden, losing work hours and entire jobs, for a total of $78 billion in annual lost earnings. With the end of ARPA’s child care funds, states are projected to see an additional $10.6 loss in tax and business revenue each year, with families losing another $9 billion in annual earnings, according to the Century Foundation.
It’s economic austerity for people too young for kindergarten. It’s the country sawing off its own leg to avoid giving families a leg up.
Let Them Eat WIC
Post-ARPA daycare closures are expected to happen gradually, as individual centers reach their financial breaking points. The Oct. 1 cutoff for pandemic-era food benefits will happen immediately.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides breastfeeding support and nutritious food for children under five, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women in low-income households.
Under ARPA, WIC expanded its voucher program, giving each recipient between $24 and $47 per month for fresh produce—a huge jump from the $9 to $11 allowances families previously received, according to the Washington Post.
That program is also set to expire. The Biden administration last month requested Congress approve $1.4 billion in emergency funds to keep WIC benefits in place, but the request is far from top priority in a Congress currently facing a looming shutdown, much of it related to Republican grandstanding on budget issues.
Without emergency funding, WIC recipients will likely be forced onto waitlists, something the U.S. has avoided for decades, according to the New Republic. Those waitlists could result in “hundreds of thousands of people” getting turned away from benefits for which they are qualified, the Post reported.
Even if renewed, the program’s 2024 funding remains unclear. House Republicans’ proposed 2024 agriculture appropriations bill would make deep cuts to WIC and other food benefits, leaving WIC approximately $800 million short of its current output, according to a Center for Budget and Policy Priorities study. People receiving food assistance are expected to see between 56 and 70 percent reductions in fruit and vegetable benefits, with nearly 2 million people funneled into waitlists.
Forever A Loan
While benefits expire, new costs are scheduled to kick in on Oct. 1. That’s when student loan repayments are slated to resume for the first time since March 2020.
Not all of the nearly 44 million people who had their debt paused are parents—but families will feel an additional pinch as they balance loan payments with newly inflated food and childcare costs. “Families with children were more likely to benefit from pandemic student loan relief than those without children,” a Federal Reserve study found this year.
An August 2022 survey from the left-leaning nonprofit ParentsTogether Action found many parents unable to resume payments.
“64% of parents with student loan debt said that if student loan payments resume without substantial cancellation, they were ‘very worried’ about their family’s ability to make ends meet,” the group found.
Half of those respondents said that renewed payments would mean no longer being able to meet their family’s basic needs, with 34 percent unable to afford enough food, and 30 percent unable to make rent. 41 percent said they would need to take on more hours or find new work to cover the cost of student loans. Those estimates were made last summer, before an additional year of above-average food and child care cost inflation.
October will not mark the first post-Covid cutback for families. The expanded child tax credit, an ARPA program, offered families up to $3,000 per year for each child between ages six and 17, and $3,600 annually for each child under six. The program was credited with lifting more than 3 million children from poverty in its one year of operation, after which it was canceled by objections from conservative and centrist lawmakers, who fretted that the funds would be used to buy drugs.
Parents—obviously!—did not buy drugs with the expanded child tax credit, a new study shows. “The authors estimate that families spent $75 dollars for each $100 they received in child tax credits,” reads the September report from the Niskanen Center. “Of that $75, families spent $28 on food, $31 on housing, and $15 on child-related goods and services.”
Was that grim? I feel like that was a little grim. Sorry! Here’s a video of a cute kid solving the Trolley Problem! Here’s a link to last month’s newsletter documenting how widely Americans support funding childrens’ programs!
Also here are some MomLinks:
-A recent poll of suburban women found 71 percent opposed to the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade.
-Moms for Liberty is threatening to sue the Southern Poverty Law Center for labeling it an “extremist” group. “They cannot defame moms all across the country and put a target on their back,” one of the group’s founders said, which is an interesting pronouncement from the leader of an organization that routinely smears LGBTQ people and just last month inspired a series of bomb threats against a library that wouldn’t host the group’s anti-trans meetup.
-A California megachurch is fueling one of the country’s most batshit school battles, prompting appearances from Proud Boys and legal fights over anti-trans school policies.
-EJ Dickson at Rolling Stone has a good take on the escalating public-shaming campaigns against childless women online. Many of the same troll-shepards who send internet hoards after gay teachers are minting new rage-bait from TikToks of women who express satisfaction with childfree lives. These attacks are not, as Dickson notes, a movement in support of mothers; many of the instigators attacking single women are just as eager to mobilize against moms they deem insufficiently subservient. Instead, they’re part of a concerted campaign against womens’ participation in public life, either via increasingly open attacks on working women (mothers or not) or through gentler appeals from tradwife influencers who market a highly aestheticized retreat into the home and unpaid labor. (My spiel here also doubles as advance hype for Gaby Del Valle’s new Baffler essay on trad influencers. It’s in print now and online later this week!)
-Wow, who would have guessed that this upcoming “pro-natalist” conference in Texas has ties to creepy eugenicists?
That’s this week’s free installment of MomLeft (a new newsletter for moms on the left). If you liked this week’s newsletter, please consider subscribing or recommending it to a friend!