National Day Without Child Care: DC Shouldn’t balance its budget on the backs of our babies

OPINION: D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed budget cuts to child care programs are not only harmful to our children but reinforce the idea that child care providers do not deserve fair compensation.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

As a mother and community organizer, I look to my babies and others to see the hopes and promises for their future. I also am keenly aware of the importance of systems that promote the health and well-being of our children, which makes D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed budget cuts to the child care system, a cornerstone of any child’s early developmental well-being, deeply concerning to me and other parents and community advocates alike.

The labor of child care providers has been economically devalued since the days of enslaved African women forcibly rearing white babies. Bowser’s budget cuts reinforce slave-era beliefs that Black and brown child care labor do not deserve fair compensation. These women make up the invisible backbone of the American communities and economies. They deserve pay that can afford them a fair standard of living.  The mayor and D.C. Council should invest in our babies the same way they invest in millionaires. This is why we are working tirelessly to prevent this from continuing.

May 13 marks the National Day Without Child Care (DWOCC), a day where child care providers will advocate for our government systems to create more affordable and accessible child care. As a proud member of the Raising Child Care Fund, we will focus this day’s efforts on urging Mayor Bowser to say no to detrimental child care budget cuts.

On April 3, Mayor Bowser proposed a 2025 fiscal year budget that wholly eliminates the Early Childhood Educatory Pay Equity Fund. The Pay Equity Fund (PEF), was created in 2021 under the Birth-to-Three for All DC law passed in 2018. This program proposed to offer permanent funding to help offer direct payments to child care professionals and employers to equalize the compensation and benefits of child care workers with their colleagues in the DC Public School System.

In 2019, before PEF, D.C.’s median income was $15.36 for a child care worker versus $33.10 for a kindergarten teacher and $44.16/hour for an elementary school teacher.  The implementation of the Pay Equity Fund in 2022 and 2023 helped bridge that gap by paying $80 million to over 4,000 daycare teachers and their facilities to increase wages and compensation. D.C.’s relatively expensive standard of living means any potential drop in child care wages to minimum wage levels will force many workers to find alternate employment.

PEF’s other program, Health4CareChildCare, provided free or low-cost health insurance coverage to early childhood educators. It’s estimated that 16% of child care workers under age 65 are uninsured compared to 4.23% of teachers. The loss of this program will leave many workers uninsured or underinsured, which can further exacerbate health disparities that disproportionately impact Black communities in D.C.

D.C. has additionally proposed cutting $10 million from the child care subsidy program, which helped decrease the cost of child care for low-income families. D.C.’s current child care offerings only serve 71% of the demand. The lower wages, coupled with subsidy cuts, will lead to an even greater lack of child care available for D.C. families.

Education

These child care budget cuts represent deep betrayal to promises made by the D.C. mayor and council members to early childhood educators, especially given that D.C. increased educational requirements and regulations for child care workers.

In December 2023, D.C. required all of the early childhood workforce to have child development associate credentials or an associate’s degree. Comparatively, only five other states require similar minimum credentials. Increasing educational requirements while reneging on promises of increased compensation for this predominantly Black female workforce is deeply harmful to the economic and mental well-being of our child care workforce.

D.C. government has justified these budget cuts by stating D.C. needed to find funding to replenish its reserve funds. However, Bowser’s budget included adding $3.1 million for juvenile justice facilities, $32 million for tourism grants and marketing and $551 million for revitalizing the downtown Chinatown area.

Additionally, Tazra Mitchell, a chief policy and strategy officer at DC Fiscal Policy Institute, tweeted “In 2021, the CFO’s office told me DC has spent only about 75% of the Cash Flow reserve at any one point in time.”

D.C. government is choosing to slash child care education programs that positively impact Black communities in favor of programs that impact corporate interest’s bottom line to solve a cash flow problem. This is an unjust act of democracy that we cannot let win.

As community members who believe in steering D.C. towards a caring economy, we are dedicating our time, attention and resources toward urging the D.C. mayor and council to not turn their back on child care workers.

This May 13, we plan to host child care providers and parents at the Wilson Building, which houses the offices of the mayor and council members. We will host office hours and meetings with councilmembers Phil Mendelson, Jeneese Lewis George, Kenyan McDuffee, Christina Henderson and others who support restoring the pay equity fund. SPACEs in Action will also host car brigades and do a banner drop urging the D.C. Council to keep their promise to child care providers.

The proposed budget cuts to the child care system will threaten the physical and economic health of over 4,000 mostly Black and brown female child care workers. It will exacerbate the already burgeoning child care crisis that will leave so many families, unable to find affordable and accessible care for their children. The tangible consequences of cutting child care will exceed the imagined benefits gained from increasing DC’s rainy day fund.

On this DWOCC, join us in urging D.C.’s mayor and council members to protect our children’s future by protecting our early childhood educators in the present. No child’s educational development or child care provider’s economic livelihood should get cut to balance a budget.


 LaDon Love is the executive director of SPACEs in Action.

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