Americans are already feeling the financial strain of the pandemic, and now the growing costs of remote learning are adding to the struggle. Could a newly-proposed bill give parents the relief they need?

By Melissa Mills
September 23, 2020
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Parents are struggling. Besides the everyday inconveniences and bigger strains on their lives, the pandemic is taking a financial toll—and distance learning isn't helping.

Between an at-home learning setup, supplies, all meals served at home, and care for children doing online schooling while parents work, the costs associated with remote learning are adding up. Parents are spending hundreds every month just to stay afloat and to give their children a good education in the middle of the most unprecedented time many of us have ever experienced. Expenses are expected to be up by 30 percent this year, hitting $33.9 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

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CNN reports that parents are really hurting, with one New York family spending $1,300 on new equipment, including an iPad, desk, crayons, and markers, for their 6-year-old daughter who's learning 100 percent at home this year. She's only in first grade—at a public school.

And the rising costs of child care were already an issue but now, with parents having to rely on daycares or similar centers that are helping to supervise kids' remote learning while parents work, finances are really taking a hit. A recent survey by Care.com, a platform for finding dependable family care, found that 55 percent of families spent at least $10,000 every year for child care—and that was before the 2020-2021 school year. Between 2013 and 2019, the average weekly rate for daycare jumped from $186 to $215, though some parents are now reporting shelling out upwards of $700 each month so a daycare center can watch their kids a few days a week when they're not in school in person due to a hybrid schedule.

That's why U.S. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri recently announced the Helping Parents During COVID Act of 2020 bill, legislation that he plans to introduce to reimburse parents for remote learning expenses during the pandemic.

“I have been calling for assistance for working families since day one and the return of the school year only makes the issue that much more urgent,” Hawley said about the bill in a statement. “School closures, disruption of the standard academic calendar, hybrid and distance-learning models, and other changes have forced parents to seek alternative work arrangements or leave the workforce altogether. Since the government has asked them to deal with these realities, it falls on us to help them through it. Working families need relief as soon as possible.”

The legislation would not only give families $1,200 monthly through June 2021, but it would also provide parents a refundable tax credit of $800 per child—all of this to reimburse parents for lost work shifts or wages and additional education expenses from their kids' distance learning.

How Parents Can Get Relief for Distance Learning Costs Right Now

Yes, the Helping Parents bill sounds like it could help, but what are parents supposed to do in the meantime? We're just starting off the new school year, and there's no telling how long remote or hybrid learning will be necessary. The good news: Parents have some options.

  • Find out if you can use the 12 weeks of emergency paid leave offered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
  • Research tax credits that can help save your family big money, like the Child Tax Credit, which can give families up to $2,000 per child.
  • Cut costs by shopping refurbished electronics instead of buying new. Websites like Notebooksforstudents.org also offer discounts on laptops. And many retailers are also offering back-to-school discounts, so it's worth doing your research before you buy.
  • Check with your internet provider about getting a deal. Some major providers are cutting prices for low-income families or will allow new users to get 60 days free.
  • Share school supplies with family, friends, or neighbors and buy in bulk to save money.

It's also important to focus on your emotional and mental wellbeing right now, because the burdens brought on by the pandemic aren't just financial. That's why the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has put together resources for helping parents and kids cope with what's going on right now.

There is some help out there—parents just have to do a little more work to get it.

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