Opinion: Child care block grant remains vital in Ga., U.S.

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Having spent more than five decades as a full-time member of the business community, I am extremely grateful for the success I have had — and for the opportunities for public service and engagement that my career helped create.

There’s a common thread that ran through both my volunteer work and my experience in the business world: people who are understandably preoccupied with fulfilling their family’s most basic needs aren’t able to focus on other things. It’s a problem that plagues working parents throughout Georgia and around the country.

Simply put, mothers and fathers can’t focus on their careers if they’re constantly faced with child care challenges. The lack of access to high-quality, affordable child care, especially for parents of infants and toddlers, has evolved into a full-blown crisis that threatens the present and future workforce of our state and our country.

The problem isn’t difficult to understand. Child care is simply too expensive and too scarce. In Georgia, 1.5 million people live in a child care “desert,” an area where there are at least three times as many children as licensed child care slots. Meanwhile, infant care in a center here costs $8,327 per year on average, almost as much as the average annual cost of public college tuition ($8,573).

Once those problems compound millions of times over, the effects become far-reaching, and the infant-and-toddler child care crisis deals serious damage to our economy. How much damage? A recent report by the bipartisan business-leader group ReadyNation found that the crisis costs us $57 billion each year.

Taxpayers lose $7 billion in tax revenue. Businesses lose $13 billion as their productivity drops because of distracted or absent employees, along with extra costs connected to hiring and training. Parents pay the highest price, losing $37 billion due to diminished earnings, worse career prospects, and the added expense of finding alternative child care and work arrangements.

As staggering as this economic toll is, the immeasurable future cost that will be paid by the next generation is just as distressing.

Today’s infants and toddlers may face the most severe penalties at the hands of the crisis. That’s due to the fact that kids aged zero to three are in the midst of an irreplaceable time of neurological development. High-quality supports during this period can have heightened effects. But, so can a lack of those supports.

Without them, kids are more likely to endure cognitive and social-emotional deficits—deficits that can persist into adulthood. That’s why the child care crisis impacts business today and tomorrow. Coupled with the fact that child care tends to be most expensive for young children, it’s also easy to see why this burden falls disproportionately on infants and toddlers.

This crisis has become so pressing that business leaders are taking direct action. Recently, over 50 senior business leaders from across the country wrote a letter asking Congress to continue its recent trend of strong Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funding. This funding helps lower-income parents afford child care while holding jobs that lead to long term family self-sufficiency.

In 2018, Congress nearly doubled federal funding for CCDBG, a historic and encouraging investment. I hope Congress will sustain the commitment to prioritizing CCDBG funding it has demonstrated in the last two years, while also exploring new, innovative methods of enhancing child care options across the country.

Here in Georgia, CCDBG funding has allowed us to increase payment rates for higher-quality providers, helping us retain good providers as well as increasing the number of providers. In addition, the state also used CCDBG funds to reduce copays for child care, meaning that more working families are able to afford quality reliable child care. Georgia is also investing in professional development opportunities for providers as another way to boost quality. Improvements like these can be difference-makers for the parents and children.

For the sake of working families in communities around Georgia and beyond, I urge Congress to fight the infant-and-toddler child care crisis by continuing to invest in the Child Care Development Block Grant.

Ann Cramer is a Senior Consultant, Coxe Curry and Associates, former Director for IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs for the Americas, and a member of ReadyNation.