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Task force launched to lobby Texas legislature for high-quality, affordable childcare

Task force launched to lobby Texas legislature for high-quality, affordable childcare
Task force launched to lobby Texas legislature for high-quality, affordable childcare 04:36

NORTH TEXAS — Private businesses across the state are banding together to address the lack of affordable, high-quality childcare options in Texas, which not only impacts working families but takes a toll on employers as well.

According to a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Texas economy loses more than $9 billion a year because of childcare issues.

"Everyone should be concerned about it, whether you have a child that needs daycare or not," said Rena Frost, the chef and owner of Mac's on Main in Grapevine and Mac's Bar and Grill in Arlington. "I'm sympathetic towards the parents that work for me and just think that there's got to be a solution."

Frost not only understands the childcare struggles firsthand as a mom, but she also sees the broader impacts.

"It doesn't just affect the businesses that have these employees," she said. "It really affects our economy because if our employees can't find really good childcare, daycare at a reasonable cost they can afford, they're not going to work. And if they're not going to work, maybe that business cuts its hours."

Juggling parenting and work, while figuring out childcare arrangements is stressful for Juan Sebastian Cordova, a server and bartender at Mac's.

"It's continuous work with our schedules, our work, our managers," said Cordova, whose wife is also in the restaurant industry.

They stagger their shifts so one of them can be with their two daughters, who are six and 14 years old.

"It's quite a bit of a sacrifice and we definitely need help from everyone we can get," he said. "Usually our mothers."

They're lucky to have family who can help fill in the gaps. Childcare centers cost an average of $611 per child, per month in Texas.

Infant care is even more expensive at more than $9,000 a year, according to a policy brief recently published by the University of Texas at Austin. That's a higher cost than a year of in-state tuition at a four-year public college.

The expense is a huge burden for many families.

On top of the cost, there are holidays, sick days, and unexpected events to work around. Sometimes Cordova has no choice but to call out to take care of his kids.

"There are days when I just may not be able to work or she may not be able to work and that's just something we have to do," Cordova said.

He isn't alone. Nearly 75 percent of parents in Texas reported missing work in the past three months when surveyed for a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Close to seven percent chose to leave their jobs entirely because of childcare struggles.

"It costs companies a lot of money when they either can't fill vacant positions or when they lose talented folks and then have to do the whole recruitment, hiring and retraining process," said Kelsey Erickson Streufert, the chief public affairs officer for the Texas Restaurant Association. "And restaurants experience that every day."

The Texas Restaurant Association helped launch the Employers for Childcare Task Force this year.

More than 50 restaurants – including Mac's on Main, chambers of commerce, financial groups and a variety of other businesses across the state are teaming up to tackle this issue.

"You're already paying for this dysfunctional system," Streufert said. "You're paying for it in employee turnover and the retraining costs and all those costs you bear to hire folks. So if we can shift the focus from the Band-Aids and plugging of the holes if you will, and actually come up with a workable model, that's going to be a cost savings – not only for individual businesses, but for our state as a whole."

It's the first time the business community is making a unified effort to lobby state lawmakers for change. The task force plans to spend the next year developing public policy options to advocate for during the upcoming 2025 legislative session.

"We brag a lot about Texas being pro-business, the best place to have a business, but if we don't tackle this challenge, we cannot maintain that momentum, especially when states all around us are making significant investments in childcare," said Streufert.

Cordova is glad the problem is getting the attention it deserves.

"Every parent knows it takes a lot to raise a kid," he said. "We're not special. But it would definitely help us out to have peace of mind when it comes to childcare issues."

He's optimistic something will be done to improve the situation for working families.

Advocates say the need for change is even more urgent after the pandemic. Thousands of childcare centers and licensed family homes across the state permanently shut down, leaving Texas with 27 percent fewer childcare programs.

The state has made some efforts to alleviate the burdens on childcare providers.

Last November, almost 65% of voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing local governments to give some property tax exemptions to certain childcare facilities.

However, not all counties and cities in North Texas have opted into utilizing that policy yet.

The task force hopes to make childcare reform one of the top issues for the legislature when it reconvenes in January 2025.

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