Childcare sector ‘drastically needs our help,’ DCF secretary says federal, state government need to pass more funding

MADISON, Wis. — The childcare industry in Wisconsin needs help, according to researchers and panelists at a forum looking at the sector on Friday.

Research from the Wisconsin Policy Forum shows childcare options, especially affordable options, were hard to come by in many parts of the state before the pandemic, and since then it’s only gotten worse.

“What we think is that the virus really started to shine a light on an industry that really drastically needs our help,” said Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Sec. Emilie Amundson during the forum.

During the state’s stay-at-home order, roughly 40% of childcare centers closed in the state. One in five centers are still closed.

For those that opened, thin profit margins got thinner.

“They’re dealing with these closures or reduced capacities that reduce their income, but their costs are remaining the same or even increasing, due to increased sanitation or PPE, things like that,” said Betsy Mueller, a researcher at Wisconsin Policy Forum.

Panelists at the event said this industry needs focus for parents to return to work and for our economy to get back on track, but experts say getting there takes more money from the federal government or the state – even after more than $50 million from the CARES Act.

“We’re looking at what is it going to take to continue to stabilize this backbone industry moving forward,” Amundson said, “because I would say while the $51 million came at the right time, the federal funding, it’s going to take much more for us to stabilize this industry.”

There is about $270 million left from the CARES Act for Gov. Tony Evers to spend. He told reporters this week he doesn’t yet have a plan for this money.

Another option Amundson floated was getting employers more invested in providing childcare benefits, much like they would offer health or dental insurance.