Washington CNN  — 

The pandemic has been a nightmare for working parents, with schools and many camps closed. With coronavirus cases spiking again and guidance shifting, there’s little clarity about what the fall will look like, even as some cities begin to announce plans.

Yet there are some steps the federal government can take now to make parents’ lives a little bit easier, experts say.

“There is such a big gap between what is needed and what was allocated. We absolutely need the federal government to provide more funding, or we’re going to have people who desperately need child care and can’t find it,” said Melissa Boteach, a vice president at the National Women’s Law Center.

“There is no economic reopening without child care,” she added.

Congress is expected to consider another economic stimulus bill later in July. While they allocated billions of dollars to schools and child care services back in March, much more is going to be needed – which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday the administration supports.

“We want to make sure that kids are safe and that if there is money that schools need to spend to safely have people in classrooms, social distance, spread things out, change hours, these are all the things we’re looking at,” he said during a White House briefing.

Here’s what experts say Congress should provide right away.

1. Funding for childcare

The pandemic could lead to the loss of 4.5 million child care spots — about half of the system’s capacity – without more federal funding, according to the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

Congress allocated $3.5 billion for child care services in March, but more funding would help them reopen again safely. The money went to states, which could decide how best to allocate the funding. Some leading Democrats are pushing for another $50 billion and the Center for Law and Social Policy and National Women’s Law Center say that at least $9.6 billion a month is needed to fund existing providers.

About 60% of child care providers were closed as of April, meaning they didn’t have revenue coming in but still had bills to pay. Now, financially strapped, they’re faced with rising operating costs and may not be able to serve as many children in order to maintain proper social distancing.

What’s more, even more parents may be looking for care as summer camps don’t open and schools consider bringing students back to school part-time in the fall. Some parents who rely on au pairs are also scrambling after President Donald Trump suspended the J-1 visa program the program uses last month.

2. Make sure parents can still take advantage of paid leave and unemployment benefits

Congress expanded paid family leave, sick pay and unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

The government allows parents (who work for companies with fewer than 500 employees) to take paid family leave for up to 12 weeks if their child’s school is closed. But lawmakers didn’t anticipate a scenario where schools aren’t opening in the fall, or using a hybrid model where students come into the building on certain days.

For now, it’s unclear whether parents would still qualify for the benefit if that’s the case.

“It’s certainly a gray area if the school is technically closed two or three days of the week to some students,” said Lisa Horn, vice president of government affairs at the Society for Human Resource Management.

Congress could address the problem. It’s also possible the Department of Labor could issue guidance clearing up the situation. The agency recently clarified that parents are still eligible for the benefit if they need to stay home to care for a child who would otherwise be at summer camp.

Some are calling on lawmakers to expand the benefit so that everyone is eligible for paid leave, regardless of the size of their employer. Julie Kashen, director for women’s economic justice at The Century Foundation, says it’s a benefit Congress should have provided long before the pandemic.

“I think this moment is showing us that this is a challenge that affects all of us. Even if you don’t have children, you see how it impacts your colleagues’ work,” Kashen said.

A similar issue arises with the federal government’s pandemic unemployment assistance. Parents can collect jobless benefits if their children’s school or child care closures left them unable to work. But, now that some day cares and summer camps are opening, states are interpreting access to child care differently and some parents may be kicked of the benefit if they have new child care options, however limited.

3. Boost funding for K-12 schools so they can open safely

The Council of Chief State School Officers estimated last month that K-12 schools will need between $158 billion and $245 billion to reopen school buildings safely in the next academic year.

That’s in addition to the $13 billion Congress allocated for K-12 schools back in March.

The additional funding would cover the set up for operating both remote and in-person instruction and the costs associated with addressing students’ learning loss, as well as economic or food insecurities experienced during the pandemic. It also anticipates state budget cuts. Some states are already slashing funding to school districts as they experience a drop in tax revenue.

In May, House Democrats proposed spending another $90 billion for K-12 schools and colleges combined, falling short of what the school officers group says is needed. The American Federation of Teachers, one of the biggest teacher unions in the country, is also calling for more than $100 billion.

Republicans, who control the Senate, balked at the Democrats’ proposal, which was included in a sweeping $3 trillion spending plan. But since then, Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education and Labor, has said he’s in support of more federal funding for schools.

4. Help local public health officials do their job. They decide when and how we reopen

The federal government and a growing number of states have put out guidance on how schools should reopen, but the recommendations often lack specifics. Ultimately, how and when schools reopen will be determined by local public health officials who are already intertwined with the education leaders.

But those local health agencies have long been underfunded. Plus, pandemic fatigue and a distrust in public health and science is making their work even more challenging, said Dr. Oscar Alleyne, chief of programs and services at the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Recently, local public health officials across the nation have been on the receiving end of violent threats and as a result, some have resigned or retired.

Parents may not see specifics on reopening schools soon, given how coronavirus cases are spiking in some areas of the country and new information is coming in every day. Stronger guidelines may not be effective right now.

“You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t,” Alleyne said.

“Right now, we’re in constant flux. That’s the best word I can find for it,” he added.

CNN’s Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.