COMMENTARY: Child care key to COVID recovery

It feels like we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel after more than a year of challenges, loss and tragedy. However, as Southern Nevada businesses begin to reopen, we must still address several pressing concerns — notably child care.

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It may seem obvious to some, but child care is an important component of our early learning system. High-quality child care providers engage infants and toddlers at a key point in their development. The early brain development fostered by child care providers helps prepare kids for kindergarten and can be a meaningful predictor of academic success later in life.

Child care is also essential for our economic recovery. Employers know that child care is key to recruiting and retaining a strong workforce.

High-quality child care gives working parents the peace of mind to return to their jobs knowing that their children are in a stimulating and nurturing environment. This, in turn, leads to greater productivity and less turnover in the workplace.

According to a 2019 report from national business leader network, ReadyNation, 86 percent of primary caregivers reported that child care problems negatively impacted them at work. The same report found that the infant-toddler child care crisis costs the U.S. economy $57 billion each year. The pandemic has very likely exacerbated these astounding numbers, and we must address the issue through strong, bipartisan solutions.

As a former mayor of Las Vegas, I have a deep understanding and appreciation of bipartisan collaboration. Folks on both sides of the aisle can agree that child care is vital to the health of our business community and to the economy at large. Recent emergency funding for child care has been critical to keep the sector afloat during this difficult time, but the work is far from over. We need to stabilize and sustain child care for years to come. This is not simply a challenge for our lawmakers, but for everyone. Now is the time to come together, across public and private sectors, to address this pressing matter.

Business leaders have known for years that the workforce is significantly diminished without reliable child care. And now, they are stepping up to be a part of the solution. I recently met with Sen. Jacky Rosen to discuss ways that business owners and public officials can work together to strengthen Nevada’s child care system post-COVID. Sen. Rosen and I agree that child care will be crucial for our state’s recovery and future prosperity. Many businesses across the Silver State have begun this work by providing stipends or tuition support, referrals to child care services and connections to, or creation of, backup or emergency care networks for their employees. And some businesses have even looked to provide on-site care, where possible.

As employers seek to invest in their workforce by supporting quality child care, the federal government can help by expanding and reforming the employer child care tax credit. Business owners who take advantage of this incentive receive tax credits for the cost of constructing and operating on-site child care facilities, or creating referral networks or providing tuition assistance to help parents afford quality care. Congress should come together to clarify how businesses can claim this credit and increase the annual cap from $150,000 so that more durable child care solutions can be forged for American workers.

Public-private initiatives such as these help ensure that care is available and affordable.

COVID recovery will be an all-hands-on-deck scenario. We all have a responsibility to help get our economy back on track, and that responsibility begins with our youngest Nevadans.

Jan Jones Blackhurst is a board member of Caesars Entertainment and former mayor of Las Vegas. She is a ReadyNation CEO Task Force on Early Childhood member and resides in Las Vegas.

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