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June 19, 2020

Contact: Jamey Dunn-Thomason
               (217) 300-8409


IGPA task force reports on accessible, affordable child care being crucial to economic recovery

URBANA — The University of Illinois System’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) today released a report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on child care capacity in the state.

The Policy Spotlight, titled Child Care is Foundational for Economic Recovery, examines how the pandemic is affecting child care centers and family child care providers, who offer care in their homes. It also documents the financial assistance from the state and federal governments that has been available for providers so far and makes some policy suggestions.

Like many other industries, the child care sector has been hit hard by the pandemic. Providers closed their doors or dramatically reduced capacity under government orders put in place to slow the spread of the virus.

“Child care is a lot like a restaurant or hairdresser in terms of being a personal service, so providers are very subject to social distancing concerns,” said Policy Spotlight author Elizabeth T. Powers, an IGPA senior scholar and associate professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “But child care also holds a unique position in our economy. Access to affordable child care will be necessary to get working parents, who are a big part of the labor force, back on the job.”

The spotlight notes that a lack of child care is especially bad for the economic prospects of women, who are more often primary caregivers and would be less likely to return to work if child care isn’t available.

As Illinois continues to loosen restrictions and resume more economic activity, child care centers, which make up most of the state’s capacity, will continue to operate under requirements that limit the number of children they can serve. The report estimates that capacity reductions at child care centers could mean a loss of up to 33% of slots for infants and up to 25% for all other age groups.

Family child care providers make up much less of the state’s capacity, but they are important to the child care landscape because they tend to offer cheaper and more flexible care. The vast majority of family child care providers will not be affected by capacity limits imposed by the state for social distancing because most already serve fewer children than the limit. However, they will have to step up hygiene and sanitation efforts, which will add costs.

“It’s going to be more expensive. There will be fewer slots, and the slots that parents find will cost more,” Powers said. “Social distancing becomes like another service that’s folded into child care. It just becomes part of what parents pay for.”

The Policy Spotlight suggests that policymakers can help support access to affordable child care by increasing the payments providers receive under Illinois’ Child Care Assistance Program, which subsidizes child care for low-income families. The spotlight says that increasing these payments would help cover some of the new costs of social distancing and other requirements put in place to try to stop the spread of COVID-19. Increasing the income threshold for eligibility for the program would also make child care more affordable for more families in the state.

The spotlight suggests that the state could help grow its child care capacity by recruiting more family child care providers, helping them through the licensing process, fast-tracking applications and offering grants to cover startup costs. If the job market continues to be weak, becoming a family child care provider could be an option for people who remain out of work.

Powers also acknowledges that a spike in coronavirus cases could send some regions of the state back to stricter requirements for providers and tighter limits on capacity. In the spotlight, she warns that supporting affordable child care throughout the pandemic won’t be cheap, but says it is crucial to the state’s economic recovery.

“Expensive care would slow parents’ re-entry into the workforce, acting as a drag on the economic recovery. For this reason, the state and federal governments need to implement policies that support widely available and affordable child care over the longer haul,” the spotlight says.

This Policy Spotlight grew out of the work of IGPA’s Task Force on the Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the request of U of I System President Tim Killeen, IGPA assembled more than four dozen interdisciplinary faculty experts from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois at Springfield to serve on the task force. All of the task force’s work, including additional Policy Spotlights, can be found on the group’s webpage.


About the Institute of Government and Public Affairs
IGPA seeks to improve public policy discussion through non-partisan, evidence-based research and public engagement in Illinois. Learn more at igpa.uillinois.edu and follow @IllinoisIGPA for the latest updates.