Bailout for child care cen­ters?

Many providers go­ing un­der just as par­ents get ready to re­turn to work

Orlando Sentinel - - Business - By Claire Cain Miller

has be­come ag­o­niz­ingly clear to par­ents of young chil­dren that the econ­omy can­not fully re­open with­out child care. Yet a num­ber of child care providers have not been able to sur­vive the lock­down.

The sec­tor was al­ready frag­ile: Un­like pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, the child care in­dus­try op­er­ates al­most en­tirely on pri­vate tu­ition pay­ments, and most providers are barely prof­itable. With clos­ings be­cause of the coro­n­avirus, many can­not con­tinue to pay land­lords or teachers.

Now that more states are al­low­ing child care cen­ters to re­open, those that sur­vived face higher ex­penses be­cause of ad­di­tional rules about san­i­ta­tion and new lim­its, like no more than 10 chil­dren per class­room. In some cases, en­roll­ment is down be­cause par­ents can no longer af­ford to pay or they’re wor­ried about the health risks.

Some Democrats have long ar­gued that the coun­try should guar­an­tee care and ed­u­ca­tion for chil­dren 0 to 5 just as it does for those 5 to 18. Now some mem­bers of Congress are propos­ing giv­ing child care the treat­ment af­forded other in­dus­tries: a bailout.

Con­gres­sional Democrats have twin bills that would pro­vide $50 bil­lion to cover op­er­at­ing ex­penses, new safety mea­sures and tu­ition re­lief for fam­i­lies. The House ver­sion, whose lead spon­sor is Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., was in­tro­duced Wed­nes­day, with the Se­nate ver­sion ex­pected next week from Sen. Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash.

Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Kelly Lo­ef­fler, R-Ga., of­fered a res­o­lu­tion last week that the next virus re­lief pack­age in­clude $25 bil­lion for child care providers.

“You re­ally can’t talk about re­open­ing the econ­omy with­out a con­ver­sa­tion about how chil­dren are go­ing to be taken care of,” DeLauro said.

Even be­fore the pan­demic, find­ing af­ford­able providers was a strug­gle for many fam­i­lies.

Now, half the child care sup­ply in the coun­try is po­ten­tially at risk of clos­ing per­ma­nently, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress. It com­bined the cen­ter’s data on child care avail­abil­ity with a March sur­vey of 6,000 providers by the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ed­u­ca­tion of Young Chil­dren. SevIt en­teen per­cent said they could not sur­vive any clo­sure with­out gov­ern­ment sup­port; 30% said they could not sur­vive more than two weeks; and 16% could not sur­vive more than a month.

Pro­po­nents of sub­si­dized early ed­u­ca­tion have gen­er­ally made two ar­gu­ments. One is it’s good for chil­dren. Re­search has shown that high-qual­ity pro­grams im­prove chil­dren’s aca­demic, so­cial and emo­tional skills, and close gaps be­tween rich and poor chil­dren. The sec­ond is that it’s good for the econ­omy, be­cause it en­ables par­ents to work.

But now there’s an­other fac­tor: pub­lic health. Par­ents might pre­fer to keep chil­dren home or with a fam­ily or friend. Or they might pri­or­i­tize a small pro­gram or one with strin­gent coro­n­avirus preven­tion mea­sures over in­tel­lec­tual or so­cial stim­u­la­tion.

“From a child de­vel­op­ment per­spec­tive, kids hug­ging each other, slid­ing down the slide to­gether, play­ing dress-up to­gether are re­ally im­por­tant,” said Rhian Evans Al­lvin, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ed­u­ca­tion of Young Chil­dren. “But then when you look at it from a pub­lic health per­spec­tive and the need to so­cially dis­tance and have strict rules about how to in­ter­act, it’s a very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion for par­ents.”

AN­DREW SENG/THE NEW YORK TIMES

Mem­bers of the Na­tional Guard use a bleach solution to help clean toys in March at a com­mu­nity cen­ter in Scars­dale, New York.

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