Oct 3, 2023 - News

Threat of child care closures looms in Ohio

Illustration of an exclamation mark on a child play mat.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

A pandemic-era program that provided federal funding to the child care industry expired over the weekend — and local providers and families are now bracing for impact as the U.S. falls off a "child care cliff."

Why it matters: The funding amounted to a $24 billion Band-Aid patched over a long-struggling industry, Axios' Emily Peck reports.

  • Now that the bandage has been ripped off, the state of child care in the U.S. is likely to become even worse than it was before 2020.

By the numbers: As many as 70,000 centers nationwide, looking after 3.2 million children, may close as the funding runs out, according to a widely cited estimate from the Century Foundation.

  • In Ohio, over 2,100 programs are expected to close, affecting nearly 135,000 children, per the estimates.

Zoom in: From roughly 2020-22, 261 area child care programs closed while 243 opened, per a report by Action for Children, a child care referral agency for the seven-county Central Ohio region.

  • That's a net loss of 1.5% of total programs, but any loss causes serious disruptions for families who have to find new care and employees who have to find new jobs.
  • A new report with more recent data is expected in November, CEO Eric Karolak tells Axios.

Context: The local child care industry has been living on the edge for a while.

  • The pandemic exacerbated existing problems, such as low pay, turnover, staff shortages, high costs, waitlists and a lack of access for families.

Between the lines: Ohio lawmakers recently widened the eligibility for families to receive government-funded child care, but rejected a plan to use $150 million in pandemic relief funding to pay child care costs for "critical-care workers."

The big picture: The cliff is also approaching just as mothers are hitting their stride in the labor market, with nationwide workforce participation at new highs and the employment gap between men and women at record lows.

  • If the dire forecasts prove true, millions of families will be left with some hard choices.
  • If their child care provider shuts down or raises prices past a level they can afford, which is widely expected, many parents could exit the job market entirely.

What's next: The impact of the federal funding expiration will take time to develop.

  • The final round of American Rescue Plan Act funding for Ohio totals $500 million and must be spent by September 2024, an Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services spokesperson tells Axios.

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