Rep. Katie Porter materializes in Zoom gallery view alongside two dozen childcare professionals from her home district in Orange County, California. It’s mid-January, 10 long months since COVID-19 upended operations at day cares and schools, and pandemic fatigue casts a shadow over the group.

Kimberly Goll, president and CEO of First 5 Orange County, a public agency charged with improving early-childhood outcomes, is among the last to speak. “Currently, in Orange County, we have 6% of our families that are eligible to access subsidized childcare [who are] actually receiving that care,” she says.

Porter switches to high alert and leans in, eyebrows raised. “I want to make sure I understand this,” she says. “You’re saying that of the people who are eligible for Head Start care, we have 6% enrolled?”

“Not just Head Start,” Goll replies. “All eligible subsidized childcare.” There aren’t enough seats, her organization has found, and the income guidelines are complicated to navigate.