A nationwide study conducted by Save the Children found that a majority of rural families say there are only some or very few high quality, affordable early education programs in their area and that access to this care has gotten more difficult since the pandemic. Rural families in Ohio are no exception to this trend, which is why Senator Sherrod Brown has introduced the bipartisan Expanding Childcare in Rural America (ECRA) Act of 2023 which would help improve the availability and quality, and lower the cost, of childcare in agricultural and rural communities.
Rural Families Struggle to Find Child Care and Brown Wants to Help
In an op-ed for the Ironton Tribune, Brown explained that, “Across Ohio, childcare is far too expensive and too hard to find – particularly in rural communities, where parents face unique challenges and have unique needs when it comes to caring for their children.”
He continued that he believes this lack of access to child care is, “hurting families, and it’s hurting rural economies. Without quality, affordable childcare, communities can’t grow and they can’t develop.”
A Nationwide Problem that Affects Local Families
In fact, Shoshanah Inwood and Florence Becot, at The Ohio State University detailed the unique challenges of farming families in Ohio. Through their research, they found that “nationally, three-quarters (77%) of farm families with children under 18 report difficulties securing child care because of lack of affordability, availability or quality. Almost half (48%) report that having access to affordable child care is important for maintaining and growing their farm business.”
Their research consistently found child care is an issue that affects all of agriculture regardless of farm size, production system or location.
Bipartisan Legislation with Broad Support
According to Cleveland.com, child care would get a boost under Senator Brown’s plan which would would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prioritize projects that address the availability, quality, and cost of childcare in agricultural and rural communities when it awards grants and loans through a variety of pre-existing programs.
It would also allow USDA to make awards through intermediaries such as childcare resource and referral organizations, staffed family childcare networks, and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) with demonstrated expertise in the childcare sector.
They report that the Ohio Farm Bureau released a statement supporting the bill saying that the bill’s passage would create “opportunities for farmers and everyone involved on the farm to maintain the essential work they do every day without the heavy burden of constantly needing to find proper care for their children.”
A press release from Brown’s office lists a growing number of bipartisan co sponsors and endorsements for the bill including:
- Child Care Aware of America
- The Union of Concerned Scientists
- The American Farmland Trust
- Ohio Farm Bureau
- Ohio Farmers Union
- Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development
- Ohio Association of Child Care Providers
- Marshfield Clinic Health System
- Bipartisan Policy Center
- Save the Children
- Early Care and Education Consortium
- First Five Years Fund
- American Farm Bureau Federation
- National Farm Medicine Center
- First Focus Campaign for Children
- National Farmers Union
- KinderCare Learning Companies.
Brown hopes to include his legislation as a part of the upcoming farm bill.
He writes, “This is a commonsense, bipartisan step to make childcare more affordable and more accessible in rural communities, so that more Ohio parents can support their families and make sure their children are cared for.”