Getting it Right: Supporting Child Care in the Wake of COVID-19

This weekend, we honored mothers and mother-figures in our lives through the celebration of Mother’s Day. As our state begins to reopen, the impacts of COVID-19 on women and caregivers across our region are top of mind for many.

“Our economic recovery depends on policies that benefit women,” Jennifer Siebel Newsom, First Partner of California, and Heather McCulloch, founder and executive director of Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap expressed in a recent Op-Ed to CNN. But from job loss to steps to recovery, women are experiencing the impacts disproportionately to men.

A central issue exacerbating the impact is child care. San Diego Workforce Partnership reported in January that San Diego was in the midst of a child care crisis and found that San Diego region child care is hard to find, hard to afford, often inconvenient and of varying quality. Pre-COVID they reported a gap of 190,000 between the number of available licensed child care slots in the region and the number of children who need care because all of their parents work. Further, San Diego had the second lowest female labor force participation among 10 competitor metros. The burden of reopening without addressing schools and child care will fall hardest on moms, furthering the inequality.

As reported by Bridgespan, child care businesses are disproportionately owned and staffed by women of color. In the recent article, Want to Support Your Community’s Equitable Recovery From COVID-19? Invest in Child Care, they reported  “These women have been an essential source of support for working families in their communities and a bulwark of their neighborhood economies. Yet they earn on average $10.82 an hour, and often lack both health insurance and paid sick leave.” Echoing what we’ve been hearing across experts, addressing child care is multi-dimensional.

“As we restart the economy, we have to confront the reality that most currently laid off workers had jobs that could not be done from home. That means that as they’re called back to work, the parents among them will need child care, especially as long as schools are closed. Our collective challenge is to provide care that’s safe for the children and families, but also safe and appropriately compensated and benefitted for the caregivers,” Laura Kohn, Director of Early Workforce Development at the San Diego Workforce Partnership, an SDG member, stated.

The SDG Early Childhood Funders Group, a collaborative of 14 early childhood funders at San Diego Grantmakers, recently outlined concerns for our region to local legislators:

  1. Dramatic reduction in child care system capacity, much of which is appropriate, but which we fear will become permanent
  2. Serious concerns about reductions in the child care workforce due to retirements, generous unemployment benefits that exceed prior pay, and legitimate safety fears
  3. Essential workers patching together piecemeal care arrangements that leave them unable to work or distracted at work with fears for their children’s safety and development

“Planning for salons and restaurants and spas and warehouses and bookstores and technology companies to open but not mentioning where their employees’ kids will go during the day is like setting out all the chairs for a wedding ceremony without discussing the fact that the bride is actually dead,”  Scott Lewis, editor-in-chief of Voice of San Diego expressed in an editorial on how plans for reopening the economy must include child care and schools.


The relief dollars we’ve seen nationally that include child care as a provision have been staggering; but once broken down, still fall woefully short of addressing the critical child care needs.

The CARES Act provides $3.5 billion nationally in supplemental funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), which helps low-income families access child care. Supplemental funds help childcare providers pay employees, maintain or resume operations, and provide childcare assistance for health care workers, emergency responders, sanitation workers, and other essential workers.

The CARES Act also provides an additional $750 million nationally in emergency funding for Head Start, which will maintain access to services for children and families and provide funding for summer programming in areas of the country that are ready to reopen.

For California, this translates to roughly $347.5 million in Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funds.

In addition, as part of SB 89 emergency legislation, Governor Newsom released $100 million to support child care services for essential workers and vulnerable populations. The critical funding is being deployed to pay for up to 20,000 limited-term additional child care slots through the California Department of Education, with half of the funding going to “ensure child care centers, facilities, and family provider homes are safe and clean for the children and families they are serving by reimbursing them for the purchase of gloves, face coverings, cleaning supplies, and other labor related to cleaning.”

Last week, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved allocating $5 million in CARES Act funds to provide child care vouchers to essential workers. Funds were contingent on the City of San Diego also contributing $5 million from its CARES Act funds, bringing a total of $10 million in vouchers to the region. Experts are calling this a “smart start” but say more is needed.


The philanthropic response to these issues has been mostly integrated as one element of a multitude of basic need priorities. A few that our region has opportunity through include:

San Diego for Every Child established the San Diego COVID-19 Children’s Fund in partnership with Jewish Family Service of San Diego, San Diego Unified School District, YMCA Childcare Resource Service, Child Development Associates, and Local Initiatives Support Corporation to response to the urgent needs facing San Diego’s most vulnerable children, including ensuring access to childcare.

Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA) established the PANA San Diego County Refugee Families Emergency Fund– in close collaboration with partners including the United Women of East Africa  – to support our local refugee community with small, one-time grants to help cover rent, utilities, childcare, food and other emergency needs.

The Ford Foundation, Schmidt Futures, Open Society Foundations, The JPG Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Amalgamated Foundation have joined together to establish the Amalgamated Foundation Families and Workers Fund. The Fund provides direct cash grants and loans to individuals and businesses with a focus on those who are most likely to be left out of the government’s response, especially workers and families who are reeling from layoffs, temporary business and school shutdowns, and struggling with caretaking duties.

In addition, San Diego Grantmakers’ Women’s Empowerment Loan Fund has been working with entities across the region to help at-home daycare centers access WELF applications.


San Diego Grantmakers participates with child care system leaders at the San Diego Emergency Child Care Task Force to gain real-time knowledge about needs and advocate for solutions. This group met daily for the first three weeks of the shelter-in-place orders and now weekly to identify system needs, mobilize resources and plan next steps for the child care sector in our region. The Task Force identified two areas where state support will make a critical difference and we were glad to join in advocating to the State of California to respond:

Deploy Critical Resources to Ensure Child Care for Essential Services Workers

  • Fully fund child care for essential, frontline workers through a voucher system that allows parents to use existing child care providers or hire a caregiver to come to their home. The Governor’s commitment of $50 million, which resulted in $5 million for San Diego County, is greatly appreciated. However, the immense demand from frontline workers means that this initial investment will be fully allocated within days of its deployment.
  • Provide supplies and equipment to maintain the health and safety of child care settings. The $50 million allocation for this purpose was also a huge relief, though the funds have not yet been made available in our community.
  • Increase payments to child care providers operating during the crisis to cover increased expenses due to physical distancing limiting the number of children per caregiver and center and higher cleaning/safety costs. Crucially, these higher payments must be sufficient to cover and contingent upon wage enhancements (“hazard pay”) for child care teachers and staff.
  • Ensure that all working child care workers are covered by health insurance and extend coverage to their families as well.
  • Increase funding for resource and referral services to expand operations during the crisis.

Make Investments to Preserve the Child Care Sector

  • State continuity payments for programs that support low income families were critical – but some program payments expired for many providers. Extension of these payments would help ensure providers can stay in business.
  • The private pay portion of the system requires support as well via funding for child care small businesses to help ensure their continued operation after COVID.
  • Preserve child care funding for vulnerable families once the COVID-19 emergency ends. This enables child care programs predictability in their capacity to reopen for children as soon as it is safe to do so, while providing peace of mind to families.

San Diego Grantmakers and the SDG Early Childhood Funders believe that these policies are urgent and necessary during these uncertain times to ensure the vitality and flexibility of California’s health care system and all the other essential services that are crucial to the state’s success and recovery.

Want More?

View Supervisor Nathan Fletcher’s update on amendments to the Public Health Order on childcare to accommodate more children.

Contact us to learn more about the work of the SDG Early Childhood Funders Group.