By Michelle Hughes
Child care providers are playing a critical role in the immediate response to the COVID-19 crisis, and they will be central to our eventual recovery. They are an indispensable workforce, making it possible for the health care workforce and other essential personnel – already stretched beyond belief – to go in for yet another shift with the reassurance that their children are safe and well cared-for. They also provide a safe, stable, and nurturing environment for young children in tumultuous times.
Emergency response would literally not be possible without child care workers, yet they are chronically underpaid and under-resourced. This essential work force is overwhelmingly made up of women of color, earning a median salary of just over $20,000 per year – sometimes with no benefits at all. Fact Sheet & Video: Early Childhood Educators in the Coverage Gap
Social distancing is not possible or even safe when caring for young children and babies. Child care operators are reporting shortages of the basic protective gear they use daily, like gloves and sanitizing wipes. One in five early childhood teachers has no health insurance whatsoever, and yet we are asking them to risk their own health and safety as front-line emergency responders in a national health crisis.
Families and providers need clear directives
NC DHHS has provided guidance to child care centers who decide to remain open, and asked them to fill out an application by March 30th to be able to serve as emergency child care operators. Thousands of private child care centers in the state have already closed, but many are remaining open because they serve the families of health care workers and other essential personnel. DHHS has also put an emergency hotline into place to help families find urgent child care. While these steps are important, they do not go nearly far enough.
Child care providers need emergency funding now
New data from a survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children indicates that for without emergency funding, a temporary closure will become permanent for many childcare centers unless they get emergency funding quickly. Approximately one third of programs in North Carolina reported that they won’t survive a closure of more than two weeks without significant financial assistance.
The early childhood sector has called on Congress to include $50 billion in relief for the child care sector in their COVID-19 response package, but that help does not appear to be part of the Phase 3 COVID-relief bill currently being completed.
Further, the North Carolina Early Education Coalition, NC Child, and the North Carolina Association for the Education of Young Children are calling on Governor Cooper and NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen to act immediately. These organizations are asking that the Governor order all child care centers closed, designate an emergency child care category for the children of essential personnel only, and put a relief package into place to keep the child care sector safe in this crisis. Read our joint statement and full list of recommendations here.
The NC legislature should move swiftly
Finally, there is a great deal the state legislature can do to bolster the child care sector and ensure that when it is safe to go back to work, we will be able to do so because our young children will have safe, reliable care. First and foremost, the state legislature should remove their prohibition on expanding Medicaid in North Carolina. The low-wage workers on the front lines of COVID-19 response – whether in child care, food service, or health aides – are the same ones facing a pandemic with no health coverage. To fail to accept the federal funds for Medicaid expansion in this moment would be momentously cruel and dangerous. Submit your comments to the House Select Committee on COVID-19 here.
We need health coverage, emergency pay, and paid leave for every child care worker now.
Michelle Hughes is NC Child’s executive director.
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