SAN DIEGO — San Diego County Supervisors Terra Lawson-Remer and Nora Vargas announced a new proposal for a child care pilot program on Monday that is aimed at increasing access to the vital service and supporting existing providers.

The program, which is scheduled for a vote on Tuesday, would direct the county to develop a strategy to meet local child care provider’s infrastructure needs through increased funding for licensing, training and developing centers in “service deserts.”

It would also introduce an emergency “flex” system for county employees that would allow them up to three paid days off to use in case they cannot get child care on a given day.

According to the proposal, $500,000 would be allocated to launch each of these programs from the $2 million in funds for child care that the country received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

“Child-care is not a child issue and it is not a women’s issue. Childcare is an economic issue,” Lawson-Remer said during a press conference announcing the plan on Monday. “As a county, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to help fix the system that is not working for the parents and families we represent.”

Child care services are incredibly difficult for many families in San Diego to access. According to the county, roughly 77% of parents in the region struggle to find caregivers for their children, citing issues like long waitlists, expense or a lack of child care options nearby.

More than 153,041 children ages five and under in the county have working parents with nearly half of those having no available child care option to them, according to a recent study from University of San Diego.

At the same time, staffing shortages have plagued the industry, especially seeing 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 COVID-19 pandemic, county officials say, 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 facilities.

“It’s like walking a tightrope and most families have no net underneath to catch them,” said Lawson-Remer, speaking from her experience as a working single mother.

The pilot program announced Monday builds on the county’s child care blueprint, which was unveiled earlier this month. The blueprint outlines three primary goals:

  • Ensure the child care workforce is well-trained, supported, valued and paid competitive wages.
  • Develop safe and quality renovated facilities to expand childcare programs, particularly in geographic areas where child care is scarce or family demand outpaces supply.
  • Provide all families with access to child care that meets their needs and preferences, while also supporting their children’s learning, physical and mental health, and social-emotional development.

“Child-care is a pillar of economic development,” Vargas said. “This is only the beginning of the work that we’re going to continue to do, because, for us as a county, this has to be a priority.”

The pilot program will be discussed and voted on during the Board of Supervisor’s regularly scheduled meeting at 9 a.m.