The pandemic brought much-deserved attention not only to the importance of essential workers, but also to the essential work of mothers.
When COVID-19 forced the shutdown of hospitality and service industries, schools and day-care centers, the work of caring for and educating children often fell to women. Many women lost their jobs or had to leave them to care for children who were stuck at home. The result was lost family income and higher family stress.
This Mother’s Day, local, state and federal leaders should resolve to give mothers, especially those from lower-income families, what they’ve long needed.
“We have stretched moms way beyond the breaking point over the past year,” said Fawn Pattison of the advocacy group NC Child. “It’s definitely time to get serious about taking care of all the people who take care of us.”
Congress has delivered extensive aid to families and President Biden has proposed permanent changes that would support mothers and children. But the pandemic has also exposed the state’s inadequate support of child care and the lack of family friendly state policies.
Here’s how to help North Carolina mothers, particularly lower-income working mothers.
• Make the temporary child tax credit permanent. The American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden in March provides a $3,000 fully refundable tax credit for children 6 to 17, and $3,600 for children younger than 6. The credit is expected to cut the child poverty rate in half – but it’s only for the 2021 tax year. Making it permanent would lock in that gain. “There is no better solution for poverty than money,” Pattison said.
• Increase state subsidies for child care and increase the pay of child-care workers. As the pandemic recedes and schools and day-care centers reopen, many women who lost jobs or left jobs are ready to go back to work. But for many, the high cost of child care is a barrier to rejoining the workforce.
In North Carolina prior to the pandemic, the waiting list for a state child-care subsidy ran between 20,000 and 40,000 applicants. The state should meet that demand and increase the subsidy. It will help families and add workers at a time when employers say they are having trouble hiring people in lower-wage jobs.
Meanwhile, increase the pay for day-care workers who earn an average of about $12 an hour. It’s shameful that the people paid to care for others’ children don’t earn enough to care for their own.
“Our child-care system has been broken for a long time and the pandemic has really put a spotlight on it,” said Susan Gale Perry, chief deputy secretary for opportunity and well-being at the state Department of Health and Human Services. “We have a chance now to fix it for the long term.”
• Pass a paid family leave law and a law providing all workers with paid sick leave. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act lets parents take unpaid leave to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member, but lower-income workers can’t afford to take the time off. Meanwhile, workers without sick leave often go to work sick, endangering their health and the health of customers and co-workers. Two bills offered by North Carolina Democrats this legislative session would address the gaps in family leave and sick leave.
• Expand Medicaid. More than half of North Carolina births are covered by Medicaid, but many women who become eligible because of pregnancy lose their coverage soon after giving birth. Expanding Medicaid would improve the health of women before and after childbirth.
The pandemic has shown the inequities in health and income in North Carolina and the nation. But it has also shown how strong government action can respond to those inequities.
“I’m a hopeful person,” Perry said. “I think we have a real opportunity to seize this moment and really change the future for working families, working moms and children.”
North Carolina is now has the revenue to address gaps in health care, child care and job benefits that have made it especially hard for lower-income working mothers this past year. With changes, next Mother’s Day may mark better days for North Carolina’s most essential workers.