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Child care centers hope federal funds will help them stay open during the pandemic
Foster's Daily Democrat - 1/27/2021
Jan. 27—With another $19.9 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds soon coming to New Hampshire's early childhood education sector, officials hope the funding will help combat staffing issues that experts say could cause around half of the state's centers to permanently close by the end of the pandemic.
Early education and child care center officials pinpointed staffing as one of their most pressing ongoing pandemic challenges while speaking with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., during a virtual roundtable Monday morning.
"Wages, as we know, is a huge issue and something that has been blown wide open because of COVID," said MaryLou Beaver, director of Waypoint's The Children's Place and Parent Education Center in Concord. "We really need be coming together and working on a solution to how we're going to pay the staff we require degrees from what they deserve to be paid for the quality of work that they do and how we encourage more to come into the field as well. I'm really concerned until we can start seeing more people coming back into the field I can't go to full-time hours, I can't fill all my classrooms and we're going to continue to see ... spiraling for a long, long time."
Roundtable participants, which included 11 people representing centers from different parts of the state as well as statewide organizations, said the federal relief and future COVID-19 packages need to support broad solutions to retain and grow their workforce.
Currently, inequity and resource discrepancies mean employees are moving on to other centers or to different careers at a pace exceeding centers' ability to bring new workers into the field, according to Chris Emond, executive director at the Boys and Girls Club of Central New Hampshire.
"When we had some (Payroll Protection Program) money (last year), we gave our staff a $3 an hour boost, knowing it was only temporary but it made them all so grateful," said Anne Grassie, family services coordinator at Rochester Child Care Center and a member of the New Hampshire Child Care Advisory Council. "It was such a relief to those families who work hard for less than a livable wage. So, our center's looking at doing that again with the PPP. It is money. We can't compete with Target anymore."
Roundtable participants also expressed support Monday for raising the minimum wage, for using COVID funds to cover family and medical leave, and for direct stimulus payments to states like New Hampshire to combat these and other child care challenges.
Other big challenges, according to the participants, include the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic is still preventing parents and guardians from being able to afford child care and/or forcing them to leave their careers in order to care for children.
The latter worries state economists, and studies show that the issue is disproportionately affecting women. The National Women's Law Center found that women lost a total of 156,000 jobs nationwide in December, compared to a gain of 16,000 for men nationwide. According to the center, women have accounted for 55% of the net 9.8 million jobs lost since February 2020.
"I really hope... we're seeing this as down payment on the broader relief that's really needed for the sector over the longer," Christina D'Allesandro, director of the New Hampshire chapter of MomsRising, a national advocacy group and 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization. "As we look at the number of kids that are coming back in, I think we're seeing recovery is going to take a longer time than maybe we wanted to see."
Shaheen said the federal relief package passed in December was designed to provide short-term funding until a larger package could be hammered out under President Joe Biden's administration. Shaheen said she's optimistic the aforementioned challenges will be addressed through the package on which she and others in Washington are negotiating.
Specifically regarding staffing concerns, Shaheen said more emphasis needs to be placed on a national level on the importance of early childhood education.
"I think about the '90s and early 2000s, and it's not just about the child care industry and supporting what you do, it's also about recognizing the importance of early childhood education and how critical that is to the future of children and to the success of children as adults," said Shaheen. "In the '90s, there was a lot of focus on early brain research and the importance of the early years in a child's development."
To the concerns about how COVID-19 is still affecting families and women in particular, Shaheen said the Biden administration's package includes a full section on supporting families.
"They really look at the issue that way," she said. "One of the things that is (an increase in) the earned income tax credit and... the child tax credit as well, and making the child tax credit fully refundable, which would make a very big difference for a lot of families who, because they don't pay taxes, can't actually access that help."
Jackie Cowell, executive director of Early Learning New Hampshire, a statewide nonprofit, suggested to Shaheen that a task force be convened to find solutions around these issues and "bring these best brains together."
Shaheen described such a task force as a "great idea," encouraging Cowell and the participants to create one.
"We'd be happy to participate," said Shaheen.
(c)2021 the Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.)
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