United Way expresses concerns during presentation before Santa Barbara City Council
Childcare access and affordability were already reaching unattainable levels before COVID-19, but the pandemic has exacerbated those issues even further, the United Way of Santa Barbara County told the Santa Barbara City Council Tuesday.
The city council heard a report from the UWSBC about the barriers to childcare that have impacted families throughout the community.
The United Way’s work found the average monthly cost full-time for an infant is $1,481 and for a preschooler $1,194. The group’s research also found a significant gap between the need for care and capacity as well as staffing issues.
In Santa Barbara County, families with kids aged 0-5 can be expected to spend an estimated 37% of their monthly income on childcare costs, according to the UWSBC.
As a comparison, the median gross rent was estimated to be $1,893 in Santa Barbara and Goleta, according to data from the 2020 Census, the UWSBC said. So a family of four with an infant and pre-school child could spend about $2,675 per month on childcare — and yearly costs for both rent and childcare would be more than $56,000. That is 12% more than the annual salary for two full-time jobs at minimum wage in Santa Barbara County, according to the UWSBC.
UWSBC representatives, citing the Bipartisan Policy Center, said a lack of childcare accessibility negatively impacts households through loss of income or reduced work experience; businesses through lost earnings from turnover costs and benefits still paid to employees who aren’t working; and tax revenues through lost household and business earnings.
The total economic impact on Santa Barbara County is estimated to be between $200 million to $305 million annually, according to data from the Bipartisan Policy Center.
“The childcare issues and challenges that parents face, it’s not just about the childcare centers struggling to stay afloat. It’s not just about the parents struggling to find spaces and be able to afford it,” said Melinda Cabrera, a UWSBC vice president. “But there’s a larger picture, and it’s the economy and sustainability that impacts the cities of Goleta and Santa Barbara.”
The city council did not need to take any action on the presentation during its Tuesday meeting.
However, the UWSBC did recommend creating a coalition of stakeholders and leaders to come up with a plan that would include strategies to increase high-quality, licensed child care spaces; a mechanism to connect parents with program openings; develop policies to help providers open and maintain a profitable business; and create scholarships for middle-income families who do not qualify for government-subsidized programs but might still struggle to afford childcare.
The presentation revealed many employers weren’t acutely aware of how many of their employees had young children. And on the other side of the coin, many employees were uncomfortable talking to employers about childcare issues.
Some council members expressed support for the recommendations made Tuesday evening and suggested looking into internal policies, such as permitting processes, to address the issue.
Mayor Pro Tempore Meagan Harmon said the issue was personal and “to see it laid out in this way was both painful and challenging in some ways and also really validating in other ways.”
And Councilmember Harmon remained steadfast that local government could take up the mantle to help.
“Not only is it certainly within our purview because it’s so fundamental to the experiences and life of our residents, but it also has really extreme and varied impacts,” Councilmember Harmon said.
“The longer we allow this to go unaddressed in our community, the more that we are concretizing the way that women have been forced to take on more — or may do by choice in certain happy cases — we’re just really perpetuating the cycle of inequality where women are paid less, women have to step back from the workforce,” she continued.
Additionally Tuesday, the Santa Barbara City Council moved toward renewing and modifying the South Coast Tourism Business Improvement District.
Multiple Westmont College students and alumnae also addressed the city council Tuesday, describing their work with the Westmont Downtown program and expressing support for a meal share program at Alameda Park to help individuals experiencing homelessness.