AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin child care providers shut down Monday for a rally at the Texas Capitol as part of the “A Day Without Child Care: National Day of Action.”

Child care educators, parents and community advocates called for more funding from both the state and federal governments.

The advocates said many providers are still struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and to pay competitive wages to recruit and keep staff.

“Child care is a critical part of our nation’s infrastructure, but for too long it has been undervalued and underappreciated, and we’re feeling the effects as more and more early educators leave the sector,” Jessica Milli, an economist and author, said in a news release.

At the rally, KXAN spoke with Loretta Johnson who has been running a small day care out of her southeast Austin home since 1999.

“We are the backbone of the workforce,” Johnson said. “I would l love to have staffing; I would love to bring in people to teach my kids Spanish and other languages. I cant afford it.”

The Texas Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (TACCRRA) said low pay is causing the child care industry to hemorrhage qualified employees.

“They’re going to Amazon, or they’re going to Target, and they’re getting paid, and they’re getting benefits,” said Melanie Rubin, a member of TACCRRA’s board of directors.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, the average day care worker earns about $12.40 an hour.

Rubin said the pandemic was the breaking point for many underpaid employees.

“Child care never got to shut down, like Head Start and schools,” she said. “They had to go to work and were left holding the baton.”

“I think that actually caused some outrage from the child care providers, because they feel so devalued in the first place,” she added.

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) recently approved another $1 billion in federal relief money to help providers pay for hiring bonuses, retention bonuses, and wage supplements.

The TWC is accepting applications for that funding through the end of the month.