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States that reopen need child care facilities. But they're closing as emergency funds dry up.

Smaller classes, higher costs and uncertain workers that were already not well paid are all a recipe for disaster. Congress must act — soon.
Image: Frederickson KinderCare daycare center
Teachers Jana Blair, right, and Aaron Rainboth, upper left, wear masks as they work with kids examining a spider they found on the playground at the Frederickson KinderCare day care center, in Tacoma, Wash., on May 27, 2020.Ted S. Warren / AP file

On June 30 — Tuesday — the loans I received for my nonprofit child care center, Hope Child Development Center, from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and my state-level emergency support will both run out. I don't know what I am going to do.

Unlike colleagues in some other states, I was fortunate that Gov. Ned Lamont and Connecticut Office of Early Childhood Commissioner Beth Bye took extraordinary measures to stabilize child care programs during the coronavirus shutdown, including providing assurance that child care subsidies — which make up 40 percent of Hope's revenue — would remain at March 2020 levels through the end of June regardless of child attendance. The state additionally provided child care facilities like mine with a bonus of up to $825 per week to provide hazardous duty pay to our staff.

And a program called CTCares for Frontline Workers provided a weekly benefit of $250 to $500 to eligible front-line workers for child care expenses for six weeks. That made it possible for Hope to remain open to serve our essential-worker parents, even though revised classroom sizes and a reduced capacity of 30 children — from a normal 77 — cut our capacity by about 60 percent.

These programs were made possible by Congress’ special $3.5 billion appropriation for child care in pandemic stimulus legislation. But that funding is nearly gone; many child care providers will not be able to cover expenses with the smaller class sizes mandated by social distancing or reduced demand due to many parents' slow return to their offices or to child care at all. Child care facilities whose families do not receive child care assistance and thus didn't receive gap funds have, in many cases, lost 100 percent of their revenue.

We are beginning to see the closures of some programs in my state, even as we are beginning a still-fragile reopening. Meanwhile, other providers around the country await the end of their state programs or federal funds, or already have seen their businesses break as funds ran out under stay-at-home rules or because they could not get one of the small business loans at all.

Simply put, this unfolding crisis in our child care system threatens to undermine our country's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as all those parents who must return to work cannot find care for their children after their provider closes, is serving fewer children or is forced to raise tuition.

This is why Congress must act.

Hope, like many child care businesses, has always been in a precarious financial position; the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to overwhelm us completely. Child care providers were paid poorly and working parents often couldn’t afford to pay more for care. According to the Center for American Progress, 51 percent of Americans lived in a child care desert — where there weren’t enough providers for the population — even before the pandemic.

Nationally, from 2005 to 2017, the number of small, licensed family child care homes declined by nearly 50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. While the reasons for these closures vary, in at least one state, providers named the increased costs of doing business, the lack of benefits and the simultaneous cuts to subsidies as factors driving them to close.

These structural inequities, due to chronic underfunding and benign neglect, are now more evident than ever.

A survey of Hope's families revealed that only 50 percent of them plan to return to our facility upon Connecticut’s reopening. Such a decline in enrollment will result in a $250,000 deficit — a $300,000 swing from the year before. Without further assistance, this deficit will prove insurmountable for us.

That comes as we’re faced with new expenses, such as the need for personal protective equipment and other supplies to keep staff safe. Continued shortages in cleaning supplies have further strained providers’ ability to provide staff with gloves, thermometers and masks.

Yet another threat is the critical shortage of staff, as many teachers report not feeling equipped to perform their jobs while remaining safe. It is, of course, impossible to socially distance while providing young children and babies with developmentally appropriate education and care — including attending to their social-emotional and cognitive development while providing comfort, feeding and hugs.

Given all of this, along with the new paradigms that cut child care facilities’ capacity by half, many providers are making the calculation that it is not economically sustainable to continue to operate and have already decided to remain permanently closed.

But if I, too, am forced to close for economic reasons, all of my families will be left scrambling. I am asking myself: Will a parent be forced to leave the workforce to care for their child — and what will that mean for their family’s economic security? Will they put their child in an unlicensed and unsafe setting? In 2016 and 2017, during a downturn in available child care subsidies in Connecticut, the Office of the Child Advocate found that six children died in unregulated child care settings.

This pandemic put in stark reality how the child care industry serves as our economy’s foundation — but that it was always riven with cracks. These new challenges from COVID-19 demand a deliberate and sustained federal response; there is no other way to find the $50 billion needed to shore up the child care infrastructure in the next six months.

One might wish to argue we cannot afford this, but ask our country's doctors, nurses and first responders who it was that cared for their children while they went to work saving lives and the vital role of child care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic will become clear. Not paying for child care can't help but cost our country magnitudes more than we imagine.