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Opinion/Commentary: Child care is needed for a strong U.S.

Opinion/Commentary: Child care is needed for a strong U.S.

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As the former deputy commanding general of the Army’s 807th Medical Command, I take public health — and national security — very seriously. Under the Office of the Secretary of Defense, I served as the emergency preparedness liaison officer and medical civilian/military policy expert, which gave me insight into the necessary health protocols to keep both service members and civilians safe.

In my years of service, I have seen firsthand the vital importance of adhering to safety and health standards. During my military service, I provided expertise and guidance on how Department of Defense child care facilities can maintain healthy and sanitary spaces for children and employees.

As COVID-19 continues to impact countless families, there are extensive sanitation procedures that must be implemented to safely reopen businesses and child care centers. 

In the coming weeks, many employees may need to return to work after months of uncertainty. While this news may be encouraging from an economic standpoint, and for those who are craving some semblance of normalcy, employers must address several new safety precautions and logistical concerns that far exceed the pre-COVID-19 requirements.

This is an important issue from both an economic and national security perspective. Child care, or lack thereof, is not only a family and economic issue, it is also a national security issue. High-quality child care can provide the necessary environment for healthy brain and social development. A 2017 report by Mission: Readiness noted that early education up until age 5 sets the stage for a child’s future success.

With 71% of young people unqualified to join the military due to a variety of factors — including educational deficits, medical issues, and behavioral problems — child care is one way to help increase military eligibility and protect our country.

Additionally, with questions circulating around when or if schools will reopen, child care will become imperative for working parents to return to their jobs.

Several child care centers in our area have remained open throughout the pandemic to accommodate children of essential workers, but the majority of working parents will soon need child care services as well.

New safety recommendations — such as additional cleaning, enrollment caps, and staff training — will be cost-prohibitive for child care providers to implement, as these providers are small businesses with already narrow profit margins. The significant financial strain placed on child care providers by the pandemic could inhibit them from reopening, and therefore many parents will not be able to return to work.

The additional cost of cleaning supplies and recommended new guidelines for sanitization standards is just not financially feasible for a lot of child care providers. For these providers to survive, they are going to require substantial support from Congress.

The economic relief in the CARES Act was a great first step to support small businesses, including child care providers. However, we must do more to ensure child care is safe and available for working parents across the nation. Lawmakers should establish a child care stabilization fund that includes direct grants to providers that will allow them to reopen with needed safety precautions, and sustain their businesses as families return to work over an extended period of time.

In order to support American businesses, families, and our national security, we must sustain the child care sector and ensure that parents and children can safely return to their normal routines without spreading the virus. I am urging Congress to consider the additional costs associated with the necessary health and safety practices when they create further coronavirus economic relief.

Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Sandra Alvey, U.S. Army Reserves, is a member of Mission: Readiness, an organization of retired admirals and generals dedicated to ensuring national security by focusing on child development. She resides in Gordonsville.

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