July 20, 2022

Helping Shape the Nation's Strategy on Child Hunger

For almost 50 years, Child Care Resource & Referral agencies (R&Rs) have served as backbones of California communities. From the Great Recession, through multiple natural disasters, and now the COVID-19 pandemic , R&R agencies are vital in supporting families and child care providers to ensure families can work or attend school. For over 40 years, California Child Care Resource & Referral Network has worked with its member R&Rs to help ensure California’s children and families can find the care they want and need, and that child care providers have what they need to provide their best care.

R&Rs see firsthand, the impact of hunger in their communities on children, and the adults who care for them. In California, many R&Rs also connect families to resources such as CalFresh (SNAP) or WIC, while some are depended upon as their community’s food pantry. Moreover, many R&Rs are CACFP sponsors, supporting the child care providers in their communities in providing nourishment for the children in their care.

What is well known by R&R staff, child care providers and families, is that way too many children, their families, and their child care providers are hungry. It is also no secret to R&R’s, families, and child care providers that those who work to provide care for young children are paid too little. Families, even those who are not hungry, struggle to afford the cost of child care. According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, the 17% poverty rate for early childhood educators in California is twice as high as the general population (8.7%), and nationwide, more than half (53%) are enrolled in some form of government assistance, like SNAP. Furthermore, the annual cost of infant care ($16,542), far exceeds the cost of in-state college tuition ($8,020)! Families, and the child care workforce they depend on to go to work, have to make hard choices everyday, that often result in someone going hungry.

When tummies are full, children thrive. When adults don’t have to worry where they will get their next meal, or how they will feed their children, they can thrive. During the pandemic, many government programs removed barriers to access, making it so much easier for people to receive that much needed relief. With the onset of the pandemic, we saw universal school meals-eliminating reduced priced meals-ensuring every child who needed or wanted a meal would be fed. There is no need for this policy to be temporary. And there is no need for this policy to only apply once a child is school aged.

According to families and child care providers alike, food is an important part of what makes a quality child care program. According to The Love Connection: What Quality Means to California Child Care Providers and Families, food is quality. Child care providers pride themselves on the home cooked meals and snacks they provide, and families find comfort in knowing their children are well fed when they are away. But the low pay of our child care workforce, coupled with the high cost of food and low reimbursement rates, makes participation in CACFP daunting for many providers. Additionally, low reimbursement rates for sponsors force many R&Rs to seek supplemental funding in order to continue to support this program that is of high value to their organizations. With this understanding and knowledge, we offer the following considerations and recommendations:

  1. Like school meals, child care meals should be universally available. Even though universal access to school meals was temporary, they should be made permanent, while meals in child care settings should also be universally available. This will increase participation in the program, decreasing hunger among young children and the adults who care for them.

  2. Child care workers should be paid family sustaining wages. It is unacceptable that the people who take care of and educate our youngest children have experience poverty at such high rates. The child care work force needs to be paid wages that allow them to focus on the work they love, without worry for how they will care for their own families.

  3. CACFP reimbursement rates should reflect the actual cost of feeding children for all of the hours they are in care. Children eat often, and most children are in the care of another adult over the course of an entire day. Parents need to know their children are well fed, and underpaid child care providers should not have to dip into their limited resources in order to make sure children have enough to eat. The rates sponsors are paid should also cover the actual cost of administering the program in their communities.

Being well nourished should be a given in the United States. The upcoming White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health is an important step in addressing these issues that have far too long been ignored. We appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this important conversation.

In Partnership,

Keisha Nzewi
Public Policy Director