A crisis is unfolding before our eyes for American families. Last month, new census numbers revealed that the number of children in poverty more than doubled last year, from 4 million to 9 million. And unfortunately, this month it will get even harder.
Student loan payments just restarted again for 43 million borrowers, millions of whom have children they’re trying to support. Between 7.8 and 24.4 million people, including up to 5 million children, will lose Medicaid coverage this year due to the unwinding of a pandemic-era Continuous Enrollment Provision, which prohibited states from disenrolling people from coverage.
And if that wasn’t enough, working parents may soon find themselves without the childcare they rely on to make a living for their families. On Sept. 30, 3.2 million child care spots started to disappear because states faced a steep drop-off in federal child care investments. Seventy-thousand child care programs are likely to close in the coming months, making the process of finding affordable child care even more challenging and leaving millions in impossible situations as they try to support their families.
As executive director of ParentsTogether Action, a nonprofit parent advocacy group that represents more than 3 million families, and a mother of two, I know firsthand—and hear every day—how hard it is to be a parent in our country. And the truth is, it doesn’t need to be.
One of the most hopeful periods of my career advocating for the needs of families was during the summer of 2021, when monthly checks of up to $300 per child from the expanded Child Tax Credit started hitting parents’ bank accounts. I heard over and over again that the checks were a lifesaver, helping families afford rent, childcare, car payments, and keep food on the table. The data validated what I was hearing—that year, child poverty decreased by almost half.
But in January 2022, the expanded CTC expired because of opposition from Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Skyrocketing child poverty was the obvious consequence, but I fear it is only the beginning.
Even before the childcare cliff hit days ago, we faced a child care crisis in this country. In August, ParentsTogether surveyed a sample of our 3 million members, and found that 59 percent of families with children under 5 said someone in their household had to cut back on hours or leave a job because they couldn’t find reliable childcare within their budget.
There’s no doubt that the childcare system in this country needs a complete overhaul. As any parent will confirm, the system has long been broken—and the real solution is to create a universal program that guarantees access to affordable, high-quality, equitable care for the next generation. Congress‘s first order of business should be to pass the Child Care Stabilization Act, which would extend vital federal childcare stabilization funding and make sure childcare providers can keep their doors open. But what families really need are long-term solutions like universal childcare, the expanded Child Tax Credit, and paid leave.
These policies may sound like a pipedream here in the United States, but the fact is around the world they are commonplace. In Denmark, thanks to government investment in young children, every toddler is guaranteed a spot in childcare. Meanwhile, the United States spends just 0.2 percent of our GDP on childcare for children under 2—that comes out to less than $200 a year for most families. The U.S. is the only OECD country to provide zero paid maternity, paternity, and parental leave. Despite seeing in real time how a universal child benefit in the form of the expanded Child Tax Credit cut child poverty almost in half, the U.S. has been unwilling to follow in the footsteps of countries that have long provided parents with monthly allowances to help offset the high cost of raising kids.
As much as some politicians would like us to believe that as parents, we’re on our own to raise our children, the reason that millions of American families are in crisis right now isn’t because they are bad parents, or have made bad decisions—it’s because the Republican Party has targeted parents and families for a generation.
They have come for reproductive freedom, taking away the choice of how and when to start a family. They’ve methodically waged a war on vital programs like SNAP and WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children), demanding vast cuts and additional work requirements, all while refusing to acknowledge that parenting is work. And they have brazenly stood in the way when Democrats have sought to enact policies to help families in crisis—from paid family leave to Black maternal health.
When Democrats gained the majorities necessary to pass the American Rescue Plan in 2021, we got a glimpse of what is possible. Unfortunately, their majority was not strong enough to pass the game-changing family-focused policies we hoped. And now, with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, instead of addressing skyrocketing child poverty or the oncoming childcare crisis, they are searching the budget for ways to slash more programs families rely on—and they’ve gone so far as to threaten to shut down the government to do it.
A recent example is the vital nutrition programs helping families keep food on the table, at a time when more than 34 million Americans, including 9 million children, face hunger every day. Fifty-three percent of all infants in the U.S. rely on support from WIC, which offers a lifeline to new parents by providing healthy food, breastfeeding support, and formula to babies. But if Republicans in the House succeed in forcing through their proposed budget, WIC could see waitlists for the first time since 1997.
Republican politicians talk often about ‘parents’ rights,’ arguing that the answers families have been looking for during these challenging times are found in scrutinizing school boards, classrooms, drag shows, and libraries. But the truth is that they are going out of their way to make life harder for parents and caregivers – especially those struggling to make ends meet.
As those parents and caregivers across the country start to think about who to support in quickly approaching elections, it’s vital that we remind them who is fighting for our children, and who is fighting against them.
Ailen Arreaza is executive director of ParentsTogether Action, an advocacy group with more than 3 million parent members nationwide.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.