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A recent report by the University of San Diego estimates that over 270,000 children in San Diego County under the age of 6 require some form of child care. An estimated 60 percent of those children come from families whose parents work outside the home. The same report estimated that there is a 44 percent shortfall of available child care spaces for working families.
My wife, Maria, and I represent this statistic. We understand the challenges as we have personally experienced them in our quest to find full-time child care for our eight-month-old daughter, Madison Rose. We assumed we were fortunate to have an employer-sponsor child care facility, only to be placed on a waitlist for the past 13 months. We were also shocked to learn that my employer, the city of San Diego, an organization with over 10,000 employees, did not offer any type of child care options for its employees other than a small discount to a local provider. During our quest for child care, we learned another important detail: We are not alone.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, two years ago San Diego County returned more than $11 million of unused child care subsidy funds to the state. This amount represents more than 16 percent of the funds received that disappears into the black hole of the state budget. The U-T reports that thousands of voucher-holders face long waitlists, sometimes waiting years, until a licensed child care facility has an open spot.
This is an alarming discovery, and our region must do better. The child care problem is a national issue, which will require all levels of government to work together to address. I believe a fundamental part of solving this issue is increasing access to quality infant/toddler child care facilities. In the city of San Diego, there is a disparity between the number of available facilities and the thousands of needy families. For example, in Encanto, 72 percent of eligible voucher-holding children are not enrolled in child care.
The solution begins with increasing the supply of eligible facilities by getting them up and running to offer full-time, quality programs.
As the city and my Council colleagues continue this conversation, we must be bold and creative, and welcome out-of-the-box thinking. This upcoming fiscal year, I am proposing an allocation of $50,000 from my district’s Community Projects, Programs, and Services budget to fund a pilot program that offers San Diego homeowners a property tax reimbursement of up to $3,000 over three years to incentivize opening new residential licensed child care facilities. This pilot project would potentially fund 16 new facilities, equaling thousands of hours of quality child care for San Diego working families.
Taking it a step further, dollars from the city, leveraged with county and private contributions, would potentially incentivize hundreds of new facilities we so desperately need.
I look forward to hearing other proposals from my colleagues, especially Councilman Chris Ward, who like me, has a toddler at home and is committed to bringing forward thoughtful solutions.
Together, we must increase the number of child care providers in every neighborhood of San Diego so working parents can have peace of mind that their children are receiving the very best child care.
Chris Cate is a City Council member representing District 6.