Child care providers in North Carolina gather at the General Assembly for a rally

Less than seven weeks remain before the federal child care relief funding runs out, prompting a call for emergency funding by hundreds of providers, parents, and advocates at the North Carolina legislature on Thursday.

According to a survey conducted in February, approximately 20% of the state’s child care facilities face the risk of closure within a year if no action is taken.

Advocates are urging for a one-time allocation of $300 million to extend the grants that providers have been receiving through federal funding since 2021, set to conclude on June 30. The event was hosted by Child Care for North Carolina: United for Change, a coalition of organizations and stakeholders in the child care sector.

“That’s just enough to keep our doors open at the end of June, until we can figure out a better plan,” stated Emma Biggs, director of Pathway Preschool Center in Charlotte, and a member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA).

Amid the nationwide funding depletion, child care facilities are grappling with the challenges of sustaining operations post-pandemic. Some states have taken steps to provide public funding or extend stabilization funding, while others face increased costs and reduced accessibility as a result.

In North Carolina, close to 30% of providers surveyed in February anticipate closure after the funding expires, affecting over 90,000 children. Nearly 90% of respondents foresee raising tuition fees.

“We want spaces for children,” emphasized Courtney Alexander, a child care fellow with NDWA and a provider in Charlotte. “We want spaces for families. We want a fair living wage.”

‘A mass exodus’

Former home-based child care program owner in Charlotte, Laterria Lassiter, shared her experience of exiting the industry due to financial challenges.

“I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I had to go through when I closed,” expressed Lassiter.

Operational pressures have led to meager profit margins for most child care providers, hovering below 1%, according to economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Balancing costs and fees has become increasingly difficult, given the financial constraints faced by families and educators.

“If we go back on pay, we know we’re gonna have a mass exodus of educators,” emphasized Biggs.

‘If we don’t have child care, then we can’t work’

Economic repercussions of child care challenges were a focal point at the rally, with attendees underscoring the necessity of child care for the workforce.

“We the people are asking for a sustainable infrastructure, the backbone of the economy,” asserted Marilyn Bernabe, director of strategic initiatives at Rockingham County Partnership for Children.

Parents like Luke Stockhausen from Durham emphasized the critical role of child care in enabling their participation in the workforce.

“If we don’t have good child care, you’re gonna lose a percentage of the workforce,” emphasized Stockhausen.

Child care accessibility remains a vital aspect for parents like Mary Ryan from Durham, who highlighted the importance of consistent child care for employment opportunities.

‘I don’t feel seen’

Advocates pressed for immediate action in securing funding for child care services, citing the urgency of the situation.

“Don’t waste a dozen years like you did with Medicaid expansion,” urged Steve Luking, a physician and state Senate candidate. “Our families cannot wait that long.”

Lassiter, now engaged in advocacy efforts, shared her emotional journey of transitioning from a provider to an advocate, emphasizing the need to support those in the child care field.

“I still get emotional about it,” expressed Lassiter. “I don’t feel seen.”

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