Skip Navigation

The First Five Questions For: Caitlin Codella and Liat Krawczyk

News June 25, 2024

In this month’s FFYF’s First Five Questions series – which brings together interesting leaders, experts, and voices together to talk about child care challenges and solutions – Executive Director Sarah Rittling sat down with Liat Krawczyk, who is the Senior Advisor for Workforce and Child Care Strategy at the U.S. Department of Commerce CHIPS Program Office, and Caitlin Codella, the Vice President of policy and programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation to discuss the first-of-its kind National Child Care Innovation Summit.

Hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, this summit will bring together a diverse group of stakeholders and experts across the public and private sectors to drive the conversation around making child care more affordable and accessible. 

Learn more about the summit as well as why a wide range of approaches is needed to tackle child care challenges in this country below!

An edited transcript of their conversation included below:

Sarah Rittling: Welcome to our First Five Questions series, our monthly video series which brings together leaders and experts across all fields to talk about child care challenges and solutions. 

I’m Sarah Rittling, the Executive Director of the First Five Years Fund, an organization that focuses on building support for federal policies that strengthen child care and early learning programs so more families can find and afford the quality child care they need.

I’m delighted to be joined today by two special guests: 

Liat Krawczyk, who is the Senior Advisor for Workforce and Child Care Strategy at the U.S. Department of Commerce CHIPS Program Office, and has helped lead the Administration’s and Department’s CHIPS child care implementation program. 

And Caitlin Codella, the vice president of policy and programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, who develops and oversees the Foundation’s programs for  early childhood education, K‒12 education and its commitment to college- and career- readiness. 

Now I could talk with these two for hours about child care and early education. They’re both experts in their own right with a rich history in the field, but today they’re here to talk about an exciting event they’re helping to organize: 

The first-of-it’s kind National Child Care Innovation Summit, hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

In the Chamber’s own words, “This summit serves as a call to action, underscoring the pivotal role of accessible, affordable child care in bolstering economic competitiveness and supporting working parents.” 

Caitlin, Lait – Let’s get right into it! 

Question one

Rittling: The Chamber of Commerce – particularly at the state and local level – and the Chamber Foundation have been leaders in lifting up employers’ concerns about child care for many years. We know we need a wide range of approaches to tackle child care challenges in this country. What brought the Chamber to this work, what level of engagement are you seeing?

Caitlin Codella: Oh, such a great question! The Chamber has been in this for about a decade, which is frankly, new kid on the block when it comes to child care issues. But, it’s because we’ve been hearing about it through state and local chambers across the country: from employers from Main Street to you downtown and across the globe.

This issue hits on so many aspects of the work the Chamber does, because child care is a workforce issue full stop.

If we want to solve workforce issues, we have to think about the mixed delivery system that plays an integral part in a healthy community. 

We are seeing engagement from across the board, and that’s some of the reason why we’re so excited for the event. We’re going to talk about how companies, large and small, are taking steps to support the evolving needs of their workforce.

 Rittling: Excellent

Question two

Rittling: You don’t necessarily think of the Department of Commerce when you think about child care. But we all know that Secretary Raimondo has spent her career leading on issues facing children and families, particularly child care and early education. Can you share a little bit more about how, as Secretary, she’s been able to not only shine a spotlight on the importance of these issues, but actually leverage the jurisdiction of the Department to help make a difference?

Liat Krawczyk: Absolutely so. You know the Secretary has shown a light on child care and integrated it into the fabric of the Commerce Department because she understands that, at its core, child care is an economic issue. 

Too many families are forced to choose between caring for a loved one or working, anD by nature of that being a fact, we are just not meeting our economic potential. 

We know that care is the work that makes all other work possible. But in the U.s., we know that it comes at an immense cost to families, to businesses, and to the economy at large. Child care challenges for families with 0 to 3 year olds alon cost us over a $120 billion dollars annually.

Now, families are going into debt over child care costs right there at  15% of median household income. 

Child Care Aware of America just showed that the cost of center based care for two kids alone exceeds the average rent payment for Americans by 25 to 100%, and at the same time child care is also at its core an infrastructural issue. 

So over half Americans are living in child care deserts, where demand far outstrips supply, and it really highlights the need for us to think about child care as economic infrastructure. 

The Department, along with federal, state and local economic agencies across the country are really recognizing their role and identifying solutions. They have to address child care in order to successfully strengthen the economy and their communities. 

And specifically to the Department of Commerce’s mission,to drive U.S.competitiveness, to strengthen domestic industry and to spur the growth of quality jobs in all communities across the country. 

And it’s with this mission in mind that Secretary Raimondo has worked to really embed child care considerations into the fabric of our economic development initiatives. 

Take the Chips and Science Act. It allocates about 50 billion dollars to strengthening the U.S. semiconductor sector while also investing in American workers. 

A groundbreaking aspect of the implementation is the requirement for companies who apply for over $150 million dollars of manufacturing incentives to provide plans as to how they will provide child care that is affordable, inclusive, and high quality. 

So it’s a really innovative requirement that addresses a major barrier to workforce participation, namely, access to child care.

 In addition, child care considerations are integrated across other programs. This includes the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program, the Economic Development Administration’s recompute pilot program and the One Million Women in Construction initiative. 

The Secretary’s integration of child care as a core part of Commerce programs has gotten a lot of attention, which I’m very glad to see. I do hope, though, that in the future child care is so ingrained as a core part of our economy, in our programs, that having the Commerce Department engaged on child care is an assumed issue, and not unusual.

question three

You are both teaming up to host the National Child care Innovation Summit, as we stated earlier.what are your goals, and what are you hoping people walk away with at the end of the summit?

Codella: Look, this is a complex problem. And it is not just complex in that there are multiple factors that make the child care equation challenging.

It’s also a really intimidating challenge for the business community generally. 

I don’t talk to one business that wants to have a conversation about child care that wakes up that morning and says, “You know what I wanna solve for child care right now, in addition to my bottom line.”

But it is something that they’re worried about. It is something that they’re thinking about, and it is something that they are exploring deeper and deeper. 

I think the hope that we have for this conference is that companies are doing a lot, and they need to start somewhere.

Look, I think this is a complex problem.

It’s really, really intimidating for the business community to walk into it and not only understand the broad challenges that exist within child care, but understand the path that they might be able to wade into this space. 

Part of the thing that I think we’re both really excited to do in this conference is showcase the breadth and depth of industries that are starting somewhere, and that are working on solving this problem in a real way for their employees. 

And those look really different. There are 9 to 5 employees. There’s 24 hour shifts. There’s 7 days a week. 

There’s a myriad of ways that people are working to solve child care issues. And some of those solutions are going to be showcased in the conference at the end of the month. 

I think what we’re hoping for is that at the end of this conference, you are able to walk out as if you just took a master class. Understanding the space, the challenges, and the next steps for solutions that might be able to help your employees.

Krawczyk: So I am thrilled to work with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Commerce Foundation on this event. It’s really the first event of its kind to place child care at the forefront of the business and economic agenda.

Having spent years working with employers and localities on child care in an economic development context, I’ve seen firsthand the immense transformation that’s occurred in this field

Before the pandemic, a lot of the work that we were doing in the space was getting the data to show the economic effects of lack of access to child care in a post pandemic world. It’s much more mainstream that businesses recognize that child care is a key economic issue. And there’s a strong desire to make investments and progress in this field

But when you look at what demand means, it means having both the willingness and the ability to act on providing child care.

In that sense now is the perfect time for the summit. We’ve reached this critical turning point where child care is seen as critical infrastructure. But we need to keep this momentum up. 

And one thing that we see in the sector: What plays in large part is that you can’t be what you can’t see

 There’s an absence of right sized models and supports that stakeholders can look to as they work to address the child care crisis in their communities. 

So many employers want to support their workers and communities in accessing child care. To Caitlin’s point: they don’t know where to begin. What do they turn to for help?

And this is particularly true for folks facing some of the toughest use cases. Whether that’s in rural areas, small businesses, employers with non traditional hours. 

Many local governments similarly feel really stuck, especially when they don’t have a budget to work with, or legislative levers. 

Echoing Caitlin, our goal in the summit is to highlight creative care models, emerging market based approaches, and successful public private partnerships that have really started to address the child care crisis.

 And we really hope that people who are attending the event walk away with a much clearer understanding of what steps they can take to support child care, and a renewed commitment to child care innovation and investment wherever they are in their own roles. 

Question four

Rittling: We often say child care means business, and we mean a number of different things BY that. everything you are doing and saying is a great definition, and you are clearly the experts when it comes to that. We’ve talked a little bit about the economic infrastructure, and certainly innovation. Can you talk about why it’s so important for economic infrastructure and some “bright spots”: businesses who are doing innovative or good things to help their employees?

 Krawczyk: I think the bright spots start with the fact that employers are really feeling the talent crunch and they want to do what they can to attract and retain talent.

This in large part, means supporting their employees and enabling them to balance work and care needs right? A lot of the potential here in part is that with the right design in place, employers can help bridge at least part of the funding gap in child care wherever they are based.

Some models that we’re seeing emerge, for example, in Oregon. Oregon just established the CHIPS Child Care Fund, which allows both the public and private sectors to pool resources to defray the cost of child care for construction apprentices who are going into semiconductor relevant trades. 

It also allows both the private sector and public sector to build infrastructure together that serves the community, so there is a direct benefit both to the employer, but also to the community at large. 

And employers also can play a very important part in paying the true cost of care and paying providers upfront which, of course, could help increase provider margins, stabilize cash flow, and bring better wages to the child care sector.

As to great models, I’d say, “Wait for the summit.” We are going to highlight CEOs and governors who are investing in the space, but also really showcase how diverse employers across the nation are really stepping up and how they’re partnering with various stakeholders – whether it’s local government partners, nonprofits, providers, tech innovators – in order to support their workers. 

So some of the previews for the day. You’re going to meet Hayden, who’s a coffee roaster and coffee shop owner who set up a child care center for his small shop of under 40 employees.

You’ll hear about how a group of employers from rural Indiana came together to work with their mayor to build child care for the community. 

From construction to manufacturing to tech companies, employers will speak about how they’re very practically working to develop internal practices and how they’re working with their community partners to bring child care to their local workforce.

Codella: I don’t think there’s a way to follow that, Sarah, but what I can say is, Liat is so so so right. 

The idea of this summit is to showcase all of the bright spots that are happening, while we couldn’t even touch on probably a fourth of them. There is so much that we could have packed into one day.

Here’s the thing: Child care means business because it is business. What we want to showcase on the 27th is exactly what it looks like when companies roll up their sleeves and work with their communities to solve a really, really, really important issue. 

Question five

Rittling: What’s your one wish for where we go from here? Caitlin – I know we share one wish, which is that the Bills will win the Super Bowl But that is not the path we’re going down with this question. So I’m gonna keep it on child care. 

Codella: Child care, as we’ve touched on a handful of times, and Sarah something that you spend a good amount of time thinking about, is that it’s not a simple issue. It is not a simple issue to fix.

 There isn’t a one size fits all solution here. There are a lot of ways that states, localities, businesses, community leaders, and there are a lot of ways people are working to fix a very complex problem. 

There’s an enormous opportunity in front of us to work together to accomplish something bigger for the betterment of kids and working parents everywhere. And that’s my wish from here.

Krawczyk: I completely agree. I think really, it’s to continue to showcase child care as an economic issue. 

And to bring realistic models to the table that anyone can learn from, whether it’s a CEO to a small business owner, whether it’s a governor to a county official. 

And then finally, really setting a table for more public-private dialogue, for more partnerships and policy movements that can solve the immediate needs of different regions, but also work together towards larger national policy solutions.

Rittling: Wonderful. Well, listen. Hosting a first of its kind summit is an incredible undertaking, and I know how busy both of you are. We so appreciate you taking time to give us a little bit of a preview, not just of the summit, but of all the work we have ahead of us together.

 I am really excited to be there on the 27th. And I hope anybody who’s listening or watching this checks it out online, and certainly there’ll be lots of follow up from here. So thank you, both of you. 

Stay Updated

Receive monthly updates on the latest news, policy, and actions to advance federal investment in children and their families.