OPINION: West Virginia Childcare Programs Prepare for Permanent Closure

By Tiffany Gale, WV Women’s Alliance

The West Virginia Women’s Alliance was saddened to receive news that Momma Bear Daycare located in Elkview, WV closed permanently yesterday. With many childcare programs preparing to close by August, the news of this unfortunate closing did not come as a shock. As a result of loss of American Rescue Plan childcare stabilization funds which expired on September 30, 2023, half of our state’s childcare programs (an estimated 604 centers) are projected to close. West Virginia parents are expected to lose $54 million in earnings as a result of cutting work hours or leaving the workforce. The loss of federal funding will have a destructive ripple effect as centers are closed, staff are laid off, and parents can no longer work. Employers will have an even harder time retaining and finding quality employees. Increased economic hardship and food insecurity are inevitable, and the state’s economy will lose millions in tax revenue.

This issue is a national issue but felt even more acutely in West Virginia. According to new research from Werklabs and The Mom Project, 78% of parents have needed backup care during their career; just 8% have childcare subsidies. A report from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids released a brief last year discussing the importance of having a solid foundation for educational success in a child’s earliest years. An independent cost-benefit analysis of universal preschool programs found that approximately $3 were saved in net profit for every dollar invested in preschool programs. If they were expanded to include the approximately six million additional children who are not served now, nationally we could realize a return on investment of $90 billion. In West Virginia alone, an additional 28,000 children could be served with expanded preschool programs, saving an estimated $420 million.

Childcare is not a luxury; it is a fundamental necessity for working parents and a crucial investment in our state’s infrastructure. Quality early childhood education lays the groundwork for a child’s lifelong success, providing essential cognitive, social, and emotional development during their most formative years. Yet, without access to reliable and affordable childcare options, many families will be left scrambling to find alternative solutions, putting their children’s well-being and their own livelihoods at risk. A Ready Nation Report found that this lack of childcare costs West Virginia $464 million a year in lost wages, productivity, revenue, and that is just for kids under 3. The infant-toddler childcare crisis has doubled in four years, and the damage is $122 billion per year nationwide. Two thirds of West Virginians live in a childcare desert with more than three young children for each licensed childcare slot.

As someone who has led by example in putting children first, we hope that Governor Justice will lead the charge to encourage state leaders to take decisive action to preserve and strengthen West Virginia’s childcare infrastructure in May’s upcoming special session. This includes funding permanent enrollment-based reimbursements to ensure that childcare providers can continue to operate sustainably and affordably serve the needs of our communities. Additionally, we must invest in comprehensive childcare policies that prioritize accessibility, affordability, and quality.

As we confront the challenges ahead, we ask that our elected leaders reaffirm our commitment to our children and families by prioritizing the preservation and expansion of West Virginia’s childcare programs. Our children’s success and our state’s future prosperity depends on it.


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