Washington, D.C. – In an op-ed published in USA Today, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) discussed the role Congress should play in alleviating the stress on American families caused by COVID-19. “We cannot let our focus on the present distract us from preventing a child care crisis that will keep our students from returning to the classroom and their parents from returning to the workplace,” said McCarthy.
Schools and Child Care Must Reopen for Kids, Parents and the Economy
Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy
July 7, 2020
The economic shutdown has transformed many American households into makeshift day cares, middle school classrooms and summer camps. Parents have had to take on the roles of teachers and coaches while trying to manage full-time jobs. Now, as we look to reopen parts of the economy, those same parents are facing limited to zero options for child care.
Under COVID-19 orders, 50% of providers recently surveyed reported their center was completely closed — and most of the providers who did remain open were operating at less than 25% capacity. And 1 in 3 jobs in child day care centers went away, likely for good. Additionally, many schools will reopen this fall with staggered or part-time schedules and at least sixty private schools have permanently closed, displacing more than 8,000 students.
We now see a looming crisis for schools and child care. If it’s left unaddressed, it will exacerbate the economic crisis caused by the pandemic by preventing parents across the country from returning to work, and continue to widen the socioeconomic gap.
Congress can ease the stress
There is an important role for Congress to play in alleviating the stress on our families. We should begin by addressing the shortage of child care options by working to keep existing providers in business and encouraging new child care providers, including home-based providers, to start up in as safe and healthy a way as possible. Any additional financial relief considered by Congress to businesses to aid in the economic recovery should prioritize child care providers and schools.
Small home-based providers should be treated like start-ups and given small business support, including access to regional networks, to help improve quality and access to group purchasing power. This will also help providers with recruitment and professional development of the workforce, for both new and returning employees. Many of these businesses are owner-operated, women and minority-owned businesses. Helping them launch and setting them up for success could be a win-win in aiding the recovery.
A part of helping schools and child care centers confidently reopen will involve providing liability protections against frivolous lawsuits. COVID-19 related lawsuits against businesses (including child care providers as well as K-12 schools), when good-faith efforts to follow best health practices and recommendations are followed, are an existential threat to companies large and small.
K-12 schools across the country have asked for Congress to provide meaningful, targeted protection from frivolous claims and lawsuits resulting from possible exposure to the coronavirus on school facilities and property. A wave of such lawsuits threatens to prevent child care providers and schools from reopening, which would undermine the economic and social recovery of our country.
During this time of transition, we should also help provide our families with increased financial flexibility as they continue to face uncertainty. Because of COVID-19, many families may face higher day care costs. They may not find the traditional child care options available, prefer smaller class settings that may be out of financial reach, or need to secure supplementary care due to permanent closures of before-and-after school programs. Congress should allow families to set aside more money in their health savings accounts and temporarily allow HSAs to be used to pay for qualified child care expenses.
HHS must study children and COVID
Most importantly, we must work to ensure schools are ready to open for the upcoming school year. Last week the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidance on the importance of getting students back to the classroom. The AAP “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the upcoming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
The group adds that “the importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020… social isolation… making it difficult for schools to identify and address… abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.”
We must continue to let science, and not emotion, guide our policymaking. To date, scientific evidence from the CDC and medical professionals across the world suggests children have a lower probability than adults of developing a serious illness from COVID–19. A study in Nature, published on June 16, found those aged under 20 years are roughly half as susceptible to infection as those over 20 years of age. However, it remains unknown to what extent children can spread the virus to other children or their more vulnerable adult teachers and their caregivers at home.
In order to better gauge the risks of reopening schools, Congress should ensure the Department of Health and Human Services is conducting rapid studies and compiling and publishing existing information on COVID-19 transmission among children. HHS should also quickly share information about the risks to children with underlying health conditions, and what transmission risks children pose to teachers and adults at home. Additionally, Congress should work with states and the administration to ensure access to testing, including pooled testing and antibody testing, for students, teachers, and staff.
The next six months will be crucial in our fight against this virus. Congress and employers should work together and step up to provide solutions to ensure financial and workplace flexibility for families, so we can educate our kids safely and help our communities return to work. As a country, we should be proud of our medical advancements and relief efforts in countering COVID-19. But we cannot let our focus on the present distract us from preventing a child care crisis that will keep our students from returning to the classroom and their parents from returning to their workplace.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is the House Republican leader.