Amy Funes has been researching homeless shelters in case she and her 2½-year-old son, Leo, are evicted from their apartment in Queens, New York. The notice is bound to come any day now, Funes says. Her housing subsidies cover just a fraction of her $850-a-month rent.

Funes, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, longs to return to her career in social work as a case manager. She feels destined to help fellow single moms raise healthy, happy children while navigating the welfare bureaucracy.

But she can’t work because she can’t afford child care. And she can’t afford child care because she can’t work.

It’s a predicament that’s haunted Funes and so many parents like her throughout the coronavirus pandemic. And things are only getting worse. 

A federal spending plan signed into law last week increases money for federal programs such as Head Start preschool and grants that help subsidize child care for low-income parents. But those programs reach only a small percentage of the families that need such support, advocates say. 

At the same time, the social safety net that was strung underneath families during the pandemic is withering away. Expanded child tax credits, which gave parents as much as $300 a month per child, have been dead for months after Congress voted against extending them. And despite lobbying efforts, the spending plan excludes a provision that had allowed all schools to offer universal free meals. 

Those decisions are already taking a toll, research suggests, as many parents and schools increasingly struggle to meet their children’s basic needs. …

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