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Opinion: Childcare must become front-and-center issue

By Michael Lemley, Mineral News and Tribune

During this year’s regular session of the West Virginia Legislature, lawmakers had several bills introduced for consideration regarding a single issue: Child care.

The aim of the nearly two dozen bills — through various means including tax breaks and a pilot program to incentivize employers to assist with child care costs — was to lessen the financial burden of child care for parents.

But as the session ran down to the wire, other pieces of legislation were prioritized, and the child care bills were left on the cutting-room floor.

Child care has become more expensive — prohibitively so for many parents. According to a 2021 fact sheet for the Biden Administration’s American Families Plan, the average annual cost of child care for a toddler in West Virginia was $5,900 three years ago.

During the pandemic, child care centers were among the businesses benefiting from infusions of federal funding, ensuring that they could remain operational amid a time of great economic uncertainty.

That wellspring has officially dried up, and child care centers are now feeling the effects.

The advocacy group West Virginia Women’s Alliance issued a release Thursday in response to the closure of a child care center in Elkview, Kanawha County.

It is estimated that around 600 centers — around half of the state’s child care programs — will close as a result of the loss of pandemic-era funding, according to the group.

If a family does not have access to affordable child care, there is a great burden placed on them, which then ripples out and affects the wider community.

Generally, the best option at that point is for one of the parents to stay home with their child or children. Losing one person’s income in a two-income household can very easily put a strain on a family’s financial situation.

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