Powerful Report on COVID’s Impact Reveals Inequities Faced by Women in Connecticut

and Recommends Changes for an Equitable Recovery

The COVID pandemic put into stark relief the many inequities women, and women of color in particular, face in COVID health outcomes, access to healthcare, employment, childcare, … housing, and food security across the state.

A groundbreaking collaborative study by the Connecticut Collective for Women and Girls (The Collective) and the Connecticut Data Collaborative (CTData), with funding and advocacy support from the Community Fund for Women & Girls, the Aurora Women and Girls Foundation, the Fairfield County’s Women and Girls Fund and others, found a 300% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) requests at the start of the pandemic and that one in three people applying for unemployment during the pandemic were women. It also found that just six percent of families of color can afford high quality infant or toddler programs; that homelessness was predicted to increase, disproportionately affecting Black and Hispanic households; and that more Hispanic women reported food insecurity compared to women of other races and ethnicities.

The ”Essential Equity: Women, COVID-19 and Rebuilding CT” report findings were presented to the Connecticut state legislature’s Women’s Caucus. In February, State Representatives Dorinda Borer (D-West Haven) and Rosa Rebimbas (R-Naugatuck), co-chairs of the Women’s Bipartisan Legislative Caucus, hosted a webinar to share findings and present recommendations to make change. Borer called the statistics “startling.” On her website, Rep. Rebimbas says they will collaborate on the issues raised “to help women and girls in Connecticut to work through this public health emergency and beyond.”

Madeline Granato, Policy Director at the Connecticut Women’s Health and Legal Fund (CWEALF), says the report shows how vital women are to the state’s economy. “The report highlights that if even just one to three percent of moms who reported in fall 2020 having to stay home and not work due to childcare leave the workforce entirely, Connecticut could see a loss of between $150 and $500 million in annual wages for one year alone,” she says. “This illustrates the clear cost of doing nothing, not only to women and the families that depend on their income, but to our state and our economy as a whole.”

In addition to the many illuminating statistics, the report included recommendations, urging policy makers to enact changes including acknowledging racism as a public health crisis, expanding HUSKY healthcare eligibility, and continuing to fund telehealth visits. It recommended the state invest in caregiving – “increased childcare spots, subsidies to make care affordable, and increased pay for childcare and healthcare workers.” And it recommended making investments in housing and “equitable pathways to high-wage, high-growth jobs and a commitment to closing gender and racial wage gaps.”

The state legislature addressed a number of the recommendations this year, Granato says. In one instance, the state allocated use of American Rescue Plan funds to temporarily enable parents in low wage-earning jobs to enroll in job training programs and not lose their childcare funding eligibility. The state also provided funding for legal representation for tenants facing eviction.

One policy recommendation would strengthen the state’s paid sick days law. “We were the first state in the nation to require certain employers to provide paid sick time to their workers, but now, more than 10 years later, the law is outdated,” she says. The law needs to be expanded to ensure all workers – regardless of their job title or the size of the company they work for – “have the short-term time that they need to care and recover – especially as we continue to live and work through a pandemic.”

Study Reveals Just How Great the Need Is for Affordable, Accessible Childcare

For the first time – in a very, very long time, “there is a deep understanding of how important childcare is to our overall economy and to families’ health and well-being,” says Beth Bye, the Connecticut Commissioner of Early Childhood.

The pandemic pushed the issue to the fore and the collaborative work of the Connecticut Collective for Women and Girls (CCWG) and the Connecticut Data Collaborative (CTData) played a key role in making state policy makers, funding organizations, and the public aware of what happens to families, the workforce, and the economy when childcare is not accessible or affordable. “The study was tremendously helpful,” Bye says.

When childcare programs closed during the pandemic, women left the workforce in the state in record numbers, the study showed. The study, supported by The Fund for Women & Girls, found that one in three families could not find quality childcare during the pandemic and 94 percent of families of color cannot afford high quality infant and toddler care.

For many families, especially those earning low wages, the cost of childcare is the equivalent of a mortgage or rent payment, Bye says. Quality childcare is extremely important for infants and young children, says Bye, a former state Senator and Representative, who worked for years in early childhood education. “The brain is so fragile then. It’s a time of unique opportunity but also unique vulnerability,” she says. “There are long term consequences to young children not getting what they need in terms of warm and responsive care. So, families are stuck with impossible choices.”

She is hopeful that the federal spending package, which at press time included $225 billion for childcare and $200 billion for universal preschool, will go a long way toward alleviating these challenges. “For families making up to 250 percent of the state mean income, most families would get help with the cost of childcare,” she explains. “It’s designed so that families spend no more than seven percent of their income on childcare.”

Under the federal plan, childcare workers wages would rise. According to the Associated Press, “the U.S. Treasury Department noted in a September report that childcare workers earn on average $24,230. More than 15 percent of the industry’s workers live below the poverty line in 41 states and half need public assistance.” That report found 26 to 40 percent of childcare workers leave their jobs each year.

Bye says any childcare program accepting federal dollars would have to pay their lead teachers what kindergarten teachers earn.

This article is part of the Winter 2021 edition of The Community Fund for Women & Girls newsletter.