“My family and I spend a lot of money on food for child care,” Larrandza told me.
We had been talking at her family child care home in Stockton, California and I had just asked about the biggest challenge to feeding kids in her care.
At the time, Larrandza was one of thousands of child care providers in California who participated in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), a federal program that, among other things, helps cover the cost of serving meals to children in child care. About half of all licensed child care facilities in California participate.
When we spoke, Nourish California had just re-launched the #FoodWithCare campaign to restore state funding for child care meals. For over 35 years, California supplemented the meager federal reimbursement that the child care food program provides. But in 2012 California withdrew the funding. Following the cut, child care providers were forced to cut into their already limited budgets to try and make up the difference.
Nourish California campaigned for years alongside a network of partners to restore the funding, spending countless hours advocating for a restoration of the benefit. Our collective advocacy spanned nearly a decade and leveraged the support of multiple staff, including our former team members, Elyse Homel-Vitale, Alexis Fernandez, and Tracey Patterson. It also required the dedicated advocacy of a diverse network of partners, including our allies at the CACFP Roundtable, the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network, EveryChild California, CAPPA , and the Nutrition Policy Institute among many, many others who year after year helped lift up the ask.
This was all before the pandemic. With the onset of COVID-19, we saw the detrimental effects of not adequately funding child care meals: nearly three in four child care providers worried about running out of food in the last year and more than 50 percent actually did.
With state and federal support falling short, we relaunched the campaign, yet again, in 2021. This year, the campaign had a different outcome. We were greeted with allies in the Legislature who recognized that California’s child care providers are essential workers on the frontlines of fighting child hunger, and essential workers deserve a living wage. Senators Becker, Hurtado and Limón helped champion the funding and state budget leaders, including Senator Skinner and Assemblymember Ting, helped secure a deal with the Governor. On July 12th, the budget was signed into law, delivering an additional $15 million in ongoing funding to help child care providers and child care centers serve meals to low-income children.
I called Larrandza to deliver the good news and to ask what the funding would mean for her and her family. But I learned she no longer runs a child care business. Like many providers across the state, Larrandza found herself in a no-win situation. Smaller home programs often can’t afford to stay open and turn to other avenues to better provide for themselves and their families. There is a compounding decade-long trend of a decrease in child care availability throughout the state.
While we celebrate the success of this long-fought campaign, we also humbly recognize the continued work ahead. Child care is a critical support for California’s families, but the state's longstanding inadequate investment means that most struggle to find and afford care. Underfunding and the racial and gender inequities that have always shaped the child care field exacerbate the problem for California’s Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian communities. Our collective fight for adequate funding for child care is far from over and our fight to secure free, healthy meals for California's youngest learners will continue. There is still much to do. Join the movement.