Every year, we take a moment to honor the support our mothers give to our families and communities. The task of raising children has never been easy, and for too long, parents have done so with not enough support.
But this past year has provided families with an entirely new set of challenges, and mothers have born a disproportionate part of the burdens caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the job market is beginning to recover, women and especially mothers, were hit harder by the recession over the past year. School and childcare closures meant that many parents quit jobs that required them to work outside the home. Women lost more jobs than men, partially due to the fact they are overrepresented in the service sector which was particularly hard hit by business closures. Mothers lost proportionally more jobs than their counterparts without children.
But as pandemic eases and schools are reopening, more and more women are returning to the workforce. But while the situation may not be as desperate as it was six months ago, many of the challenges that women faced during, and even before the pandemic began, are still present.
So as we send mothers across the state a heart-felt “Thank you” this week, let’s pause and consider what mothers really need in order to take care of themselves and their families.
The Problem: A Lack of Affordable Child Care
A lack of affordable childcare has driven countless women out of the workforce for decades. With a shortage of safe and available options this year, women felt the lack of childcare more than ever.
A lack of safe, affordable childcare is a crisis in Montana. Across the state, 48 out of 56 counties fail to meet even 50 percent of demand with licensed childcare providers. The state ranks 40th for childcare availability nationwide. For more information, read our report: The Coronavirus and Child Care: Montana Must Do More for Workers and Families.
Next Steps: Adequately Fund Childcare and Early Education
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides Montana with funds to help ease both the social and health effects of the pandemic. House Bill 632, passed by the legislature, will provide $112.5 million for childcare stabilization and block grants. These funds will be provided to childcare desert for one-time equipment and necessary infrastructure, property improvements, worksite childcare, and employee training.
But Montana is still one of only a handful of states without any investment in early education. Montana lawmakers should pre-K programs in order to support parents and families.
The Problem: Paid Leave
The coronavirus pandemic highlighted the importance of access to paid leave when an employee was sick or needed to care for a loved one. But for years prior to the pandemic, women have been expected to return to work soon after giving birth or take unpaid leave to stay with their child. Likewise, if a family is met with an injury or illness, mothers have often had to choose between caring for themselves or a loved one and keeping their job.
Next Steps: The Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act
Unfortunately, the legislature passed on an opportunity to support not only mothers, but all workers in Montana by failing to pass the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI Act). To read more about the how paid leave could benefit Montanans, read our post here: Time for Montana to Provide Paid Family and Medical Leave.
The Problem: Food Insecurity
School closures, rising food costs, and higher-than-normal rates of unemployment all contributed to rising rates of food insecurity over the past year. Feeding America projects that in 2021, 17 percent of children in Montana will experience food insecurity. While 2021 is likely to see lower rates of food insecurity than 2020 did, there are still far too many mothers in the state who do not know how they will feed children their next meal.
Next Steps: Protect Safety Net Programs
As long as both Montana and the federal government have emergency orders in place, Montanans who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are also receiving Emergency Allotments. The relief package last spring left out SNAP participants on the lowest incomes, however, these households and individuals will begin receiving $95 in emergency allotment benefits. Over six months, Montana will receive $15.9 million in SNAP benefits, unless the governor decides to end the emergency declaration prematurely.
Flowers and cards are nice ways to show our appreciation, but if we truly wish to support the mothers in our state, we should pay attention to what their needs are. Adequately funding childcare, providing access to paid leave, and ensuring food security are some of the most important ways we can show mothers we care.