PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island is in the midst of a child care crisis, according to advocates, who shared their concerns with Gov. Dan McKee Wednesday morning.
Low staffing levels were a problem for child care providers before, but the pandemic has made the issue even worse. Advocates believe the worsening issue is creating a ripple effect, leading to reduced hours, closed classrooms and long waitlists.
Gov. Dan McKee suggested the state use approximately 10% of the $1 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan to help stabilize the child care sector, as well as provide relief for small businesses and housing.
“Our child care industry has been nothing short of heroic during the pandemic, helping us to ensure that children and families had safe places to continue to learn and grow,” McKee said.
Advocates are calling for a $15 minimum wage for child care workers as well as expanded eligibility for child care assistance.
“Working as an early childhood educator is a high-skill, low-wage job. Not only are child care providers struggling to attract new staff, they are losing current staff who are leaving for jobs that can offer higher wages,” McKee explained.
McKee said the funds could also be used to help retain experienced workers and open new child care centers.
Executive Director of Beautiful Beginnings Child Care in Providence Khadija Lewis Khan said the time to act is now.
“A lot of child care centers have rooms that are closing, some child care centers are closing themselves, just at a time when an increase in need from families is happening,” Lewis Khan said. “Now is the time. If we want the economy to come back, we have to support the people caring for our youngest children.”
The governor said he will be sending a supplemental budget plan to the R.I. General Assembly next week, which will lay out his detailed plans for immediate investment into child care, housing and small businesses.
“Let me be clear. This down payment is not going to be the only answer or the only investment needed to address small business, housing, and child care, but it’s a crucial start,” McKee said. “We are here to highlight why we need to make these initial, short-term investments now.”
If all goes well, advocates are hoping the money will be allocated by next month.