We can’t reopen Alaska without child care

We can’t reopen Alaska without child care

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Working parents are constantly forced to make difficult decisions between their careers and their families, and it feels like the deck has always been stacked against them. But as the coronavirus pandemic drags on, those decisions are becoming downright impossible.

Ten months ago, our family welcomed our daughter Maluhia into the world. My wife and I both chose careers advocating for children, parents, families, and child and youth workers, but now we find ourselves having to advocate for ourselves as parents and for our daughter. Maluhia was supposed to start child care on March 23, but as it happens, that was the day Anchorage went into its “hunker down” order to stop the spread of COVID-19. All businesses stopped unless considered essential.

Thankfully, we are able to telework for our main jobs, but our income is largely supported by my second job as a drummer in a few local bands. My paycheck is dependent on bars, restaurants, and venues being open. Our family was depending on this income to pay for child care over the next year, but those funds are gone with no signs of returning.

It was a challenge to be a full-time parent and employee at the same time. It’s difficult to provide work and our daughter with the care and attention that is expected and needed from both. Maluhia has grown and developed so much since “hunker down” started. She’s been learning to crawl, pull herself up and is even entering the beginning stages of walking. We’re truly thankful for family-friendly policies that our jobs have, and we’re even more thankful for her incredible child care provider. Although Maluhia didn’t attend care for three months during the “hunker down,” we continued to pay for care so that we didn’t lose her spot and so that her provider could sustain her business.

Alaska is starting to open up, but we and other families aren’t going to be able to return to work in the same way without having someone to take care of our children. Many child care facilities had to temporarily close due to the pandemic. Now, they’re struggling to open back up and remain open. This forced many child care workers to find other jobs while their facilities were closed, and while they love their work, they are often able to make more money in their new positions. Licensed and unlicensed child care facilities need more help if they are going to survive this crisis.

Recently, our family had the opportunity to sit down over Zoom with a staff member from Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office as part of national nonprofit ZERO TO THREE’s “Strolling Thunder” event. We were so thankful that her staff took the time to still hear our story, and that they gave our situation the respect it deserved.

During our conversation, we stressed that in order for state economies like Alaska’s to be able to restart after COVID-19, child care must be supported. Child care providers are paid minimum wage to do the most important work for our youngest Alaskans. For our economy to open back up, child care needs financial help. We cannot be successful without a strong child care field.

Right now, Sen. Murkowski and her colleagues are discussing what might be the last COVID-19 relief package of the year. As part of that bill, I urge Congress to invest at least $50 billion in dedicated funding to ensure essential care now and the long-term viability of the child care system once this crisis passes. In addition, I ask them to maintain the critical protections that babies and children need to stay safe, especially during a pandemic. After all, safe, stable, and affordable child care is a key piece of economic recovery for our family and so many others across Alaska.

Pili Queja is an early childhood professional and father of one living in Anchorage.



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