ACF Letter Urges States to Invest in the Early Learning Workforce as part of Economic Recovery Effort
Last week, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) shared a Dear Colleague letter to Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) lead agencies, Head Start programs, and Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B-5) grant recipients encouraging the investment of existing funds to address unprecedented shortages in the early care and education (ECE) workforce.
The letter notes workforce shortages, which existed prior to and were exacerbated by the pandemic, have made hiring more challenging than ever. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the child care industry remains 10% lower than pre-pandemic levels. In February 2020, 1,046,500 were employed in the child care sector. That number dropped dramatically to 673,000 in April 2020, and preliminary data indicates that number had rebounded to 937,800 by September 2021. These shortages have a profound impact on parents who rely on child care to go to work or pursue training or education while their child is in an affordable, safe, nurturing, and educationally enriching environment.
To support the nation’s economic recovery, the letter urges states, communities, and local programs to invest existing funding sources in addressing these dire circumstances. Specifically, the letter suggests using American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act funds and other COVID-19 relief funding to:
- Improve child care subsidy payment rates to providers.
- Increase staff wages or provide one-time incentives, such as hiring or retention bonuses.
- Provide benefits including paid leave, health insurance, child care, and retirement benefits.
- Fund scholarships and time off for training or enrollment in educational coursework, apprenticeships, or other practice-based learning that leads towards a credential or degree.
- Expand shared services models, substitute pools, and family child care networks.
- Provide staff wellness supports such as guaranteed breaks during the work day, access to adult-sized furniture in classrooms, mentoring and coaching, and/or mental health consultation for ECE staff and providers.
Additionally, the letter encourages states and territories to leverage PDG B-5 funds, in accordance with system building plans, to address workforce shortages and highlights recent Office of Head Start guidance that describes strategies to support staff wellness with ARP and other COVID-19 relief funding. The letter also links to an appendix with examples of promising strategies states and programs have used to recruit and retain a strong ECE workforce, along with selected resources. The letter concludes by saying the Office of Child Care will continue to release new technical assistance products and to provide additional support and technical assistance through regional office program staff.
Read the full letter here.