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Childcare in the US remains challenging. Some HR departments are chipping in

Chobani recently announced it will offer a childcare stipend and backup care to employees after hearing about access challenges.
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· 4 min read

Chobani is the latest company to add childcare to its suite of benefits to better support working parents.

The yogurt maker, which has manufacturing facilities in South Edmeston, New York, and Twin Falls, Idaho, announced on June 21 it will partner with WeeCare, a childcare network focused on affordable options. Full-time, regular employees will be eligible to receive up to 10 days of prepaid childcare within the WeeCare network, as well as an annual stipend of $1,200, according to Shari Eaton, Chobani’s chief people officer.

The decision follows similar moves by companies such as JCPenney and Mazda Toyota, which both announced last year they would chip in for employees’ childcare amid a historic shortage of providers. Though President Biden’s administration aimed to tackle the childcare crisis through federal legislation, these policies didn’t receive enough support in Congress—leaving states, and in some cases, HR departments, to fill in gaps.

Making it easier to come to work. Eaton said the company decided to partner with WeeCare after picking up on a need for childcare through employee listening sessions. About two-thirds of Chobani’s employees are hourly workers, and childcare access in the towns where the company has plants can be challenging, Eaton told HR Brew.

“We have some FSA solutions for childcare,” Eaton said, referring to flexible spending account benefits, “but…we weren't working with a network, and there were some opportunities for us to think about how to do that.”

The $1,200 stipend is equivalent to about a month’s worth of infant care costs in the state of New York, according to an estimate by the Economic Policy Institute. Eaton said employees can use that stipend for a variety of childcare services, whether through the WeeCare network or even to pay a family member to watch their children.

The hope is that these backup credits and the stipend will make it easier for Chobani employees to bring their best selves to work every day, Eaton said. “We hope that we're solving a need that our employees have and helping them financially to be able to afford childcare, which is a tremendous crisis right now in the United States.”

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HR’s role in the childcare crisis. Benefits for working parents have declined compared to the beginning of the pandemic, according to SHRM data, and a 2022 survey by Ovia Health showed mothers want to see more support from their employers in this space.

In 2020, as many parents struggled to balance childcare responsibilities with their jobs while working from home, the share of organizations offering paid maternity leave rose from 34% to 53%, according to SHRM’s employee benefits survey. That number dropped back down to 35% in 2021, though, and stood at 40% as of 2023. Following the initial drop reported by SHRM, Stephanie Nebes, a benefit and payroll specialist at on-demand freelance platform Catalant, told HR Dive some employers may have determined the cost of offering parental leave wasn’t worth it, and decided to put their money toward benefits that would apply to a wider swath of employees.

Likewise, the share of organizations offering flexible spending accounts for employees’ dependents is now lower than it was during the pandemic, at 57%, compared to 64% in 2020. In its 2023 benefits report, SHRM suspected these accounts, which allow employees to set aside pre-tax money for childcare expenses, may be falling out of favor because of a “use it or lose it” provision requiring workers to forfeit unused funds by the end of the year. Dependent care FSA employees were also ineligible for the child tax credit that expired in January, SHRM noted.

About 32% of employers allow their workers to bring children to work in case of an emergency, and only a small minority offer any additional family care benefits, according to SHRM’s 2023 benefits report.

Childcare has implications for employee retention, particularly among female workers. More than a third of women (34%) reported voluntarily leaving the workforce due to childcare expenses or availability in 2022. To address retention concerns, HR departments may consider not only partnering with a childcare network, as Chobani has done, but also offering on-site childcare.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.