REIVES: General Assembly must address child care crisis

"In this building, we have had our priorities backward."


Child care is an essential issue for so many North Carolinians. This is a serious issue that our state faces, but legislative inaction so far means that thousands of families across this state are being left in limbo.

The federal government funded child care stabilization grants that are set to end this summer. That money has been a lifeline for working families and the business community, ensuring that child care centers can continue to function and that working parents can make it to work. But with that money ending, now the state needs to step up and bridge the divide.

The pressure on child care is coming from above and below. Too many working families are simply unable to afford the high cost of child care in our state today. That leads to working parents having to withdraw from the workforce in order to take care of their children. The statistics on this are eye-popping: 34% of working mothers and 20% of working fathers are leaving their jobs because the cost of child care is too high.

On the other hand, it is difficult for child care centers to stay afloat. Wages are too low in the industry, leading to fewer people joining the child care workforce and further exacerbating the ability of these centers to take in children. Twenty-five percent of child care centers closed between 2016 and 2021. A third of the remaining centers are liable to close when the Child Care Stabilization Grants dry up. This is a crisis, and we need to address it.

One of North Carolina’s best attributes on the national and global stage is our outstanding workforce. It’s the reason we have secured billions of dollars of economic investment and thousands of new jobs. The business community understands the need to have a well-funded child care system, and the working families who rely on it most days of the week surely do too. We need this General Assembly to understand how dire it is that this funding be provided.

Instead, the focus of this session so far has been to subsidize private school education for millionaires. In this building, we have had our priorities backward. How much more of an impact would hundreds of millions of dollars for child care centers have on our state than handouts to wealthy families for private school tuition?

With the money proposed for the taxpayer-funded voucher scheme, we could invest in child care subsidies to wipe away the current waitlist of more than 5,000 kids. We could create a statewide rate floor that helps ensure rural low-wealth communities can afford child care. We could shore up the Child Care Stabilization Grants program. And we could adequately fund Pre-K to cover nearly 30,000 students and keep teachers in classrooms. This and more is included in Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget proposal.

We are making a simple proposition here: provide funding to the programs that actually help the working and middle-class people of this state.

Won’t that have more of an impact for working families? Doesn’t that really address the concerns that North Carolinians have every night at the kitchen table? Working people in this state are being left behind by the inaction in this building while the wealthiest folks and corporations see their tax bill drop every year. The people who go to work 9-5 and struggle to make ends meet are the ones we should be focused on helping.

Robert Reives II is the N.C. House Democratic leader and represents Chatham County.