Child care facilities put in tough position as COVID funding expires: Cut budget or raise tuition?

ByStephanie Wade WLS logo
Tuesday, October 3, 2023
Daycares scramble to serve families as COVID funding expires
The West Austin Development Center is one of thousands of child care facilities in Illinois losing emergency COVID-19 funding.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Thousands of child care facilities across Illinois, and 200,000 across the country, are now without emergency pandemic relief funding.

Those funds expired over the weekend.

Now, daycare owners are scrambling to find ways to keep serving families, pay their staff, and make child care affordable for those who need it the most.

One child care center on Chicago's West Side has been cheering kids on for nearly two decades.

"It's very critical. I don't know what I would do without this center or centers like this. I just can't imagine for any single parent out here like myself who doesn't have any support," said parent Desiree Sheppard.

Two of Sheppard's children attend the West Austin Development Center.

"I have a master's degree. I work full-time. And yet, I still need assistance, because that's how expensive it is," Sheppard said.

West Austin Development Center CEO Tamera Fair said 97% of their 200 student families are on subsidies and rely on grants to afford daycare tuition.

"You're one emergency away from letting something go, and maybe one emergency away from being homeless," Fair said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, West Austin was among the thousands of child care facilities across Illinois that benefited from emergency relief funds through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Now that those funds have expired, Fair said, it's leaving an already under-funded, low-staffed industry in a tough position: cut the budget or raise tuition?

"We were essential during a crisis. Did we use up our utility, or are we no longer essential now? It's OK to take away the funds?" Fair said.

"I don't know what I'm going to do, and I don't know what a lot of parents are going to do without that. Because, you literally have to decide between going to work, going to school, bringing your children with you, if that's an option, or starting all over and staying at home with them," Sheppard added.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky spoke with ABC7 on Monday from Washington, D.C.

"We are looking at tens of thousands of childcare centers that aren't going to be able to function," Schakowsky said. "I can't get a job if I don't have anybody to watch my child. And then, now that I have a job, I can't work it, because I don't have any funding to put my child in."

Schakowsky co-sponsored the Childcare Stabilization Act, which would extend the vital federal child care funding for five years through an additional $16 billion.

But as of now, it does not have Republican support.

"We are going to see that a number of these centers around the country are going to actually have to shut down. Not just cut back, but are going to have to shut down. And, that will create such a crisis for so many families," Schakowsky said.

Schakowsky said 9.5 million children could soon lose their child care if the government doesn't act now.

Meanwhile, the child care centers are struggling. They're having decide between cutting staff, or charging families more money. It's tough.