A Harris County free child care program is set to start in days, and advocates say it couldn’t come at a better time because the child care centers across the state are in crisis.

Sending your kid to child care is too much for some parents.

“If you want to go to a better place and a better area, it’s going to be $300 and up per child,” Paola Diaz explained.

Diaz said child care costs are why she’s at home spending summer days at the library instead of work.

“It keeps you from trying to work, or do other stuff around,” Diaz said. “It is hard.”

Harris County is looking to help. This month, an Early REACH program starts. The county is using $26 million in federal funds to cover child care costs. If you live in the county, have a kid under age four, and meet the income requirements, you could receive free child care.

“There are so many child care deserts around Harris County and we want to provide not only free child care, but high quality child care,” BakerRipley spokesperson Frederick Goodall said.

Advocates said this is a statewide problem. Texas Care for Children said a family of four spends nearly $20,000 a year in child care.

During the pandemic, the state spent millions on this issue. It’s funding that has dried up.

During this past session, advocates lawmakers didn’t do enough to fund child care.

“That funding would’ve supported the continuation of stabilization grants that the state launched during the pandemic that were critical to keeping programs open,” Texas Care for Children early learning policy director David Feigen said.

Advocates said it’s not only the cost of child care, but workers’ pay. On average, they make $11 an hour.

Without assistance, it could cause facilities to close. It’s a problem they say has already caused child care deserts, mainly in low-income communities.

“It means they have to find alternative arrangements for their kids and for some kids that means arrangements that are not high quality or children are stuck in front of a television screen rather than getting read to be a teacher and engaging with other kids,” Feigen explained.

Without work, parents aren’t spending money. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Texas loses $9 billion a year in revenue because of parents not working. That’s money that could go to infrastructure, teachers, and other state projects, which is why advocates say programs like the one the county will launch this month are important for us all.

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