SAN DIEGO — The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a new pilot program on Tuesday that aims to address the county’s child care crisis.

The program, which was introduced Monday ahead of the board meeting, focuses on increasing access to the service by supporting providers through funding for licensing and training. It would also help develop new centers in “service deserts,” according to the proposal.

For county workers, the pilot program will also introduce a new emergency “flex” system, allowing them up to three paid days off in case they cannot get child care on any given day.

These initiatives would be funded by half of the the $2 million the county received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act for child-care purposes.

County Supervisors Vice Chair Terra Lawson-Remer and Chairwoman Nora Vargas proposed the pilot program to help combat what they describe as a dire crisis facing the San Diego region.

According to the county, about 77% of working parents in the region struggle to find licensed caregivers for their children, citing issues like long waitlists, expenses or a lack of child care options nearby.

At the same time, staffing shortages have plagued the industry, especially as much of the workforce struggles to earn a livable wage. According to the county, the average hourly wage for caregivers is $15.11 — a little over a dollar under the statewide average.

These issues were exacerbated by the pandemic, Lawson-Remer says, with one in eight child care settings closing after March 2020 — many of which did not reopen. Neighborhoods with an existing child care disparity were hit particularly hard by the shuttering of these centers.

“I think the COVID pandemic made it front and center for a lot of people who had been sweeping it under the rug,” Lawson-Remer told FOX 5. “Suddenly you had a lot of people who hadn’t been forced to be the person who had to show up when your kiddo was sick or figure out how to simultaneously be at work.”

“This is an issue we need partnership at a state and federal level because it’s an economic issue and we’re not going to be able to solve it by ourselves,” she added.

County leaders have recognized that significant and coordinated investments are needed to support the working parents, children and the local childcare industry. Earlier this month, the Board of Supervisors unveiled a child care blueprint to address those goals.

“We need the infrastructure, we need the training and we need to make sure people have the tools that they need to be able to open up these childcare offices across the county,” Vargas said.

FOX 5’s Elizabeth Alvarez contributed to this report.