Will Child Care Be There When States Reopen?

By: - April 27, 2020 12:00 am

Dallas McCullough, 5, right, Aubrey Parker, 4, center, and Levi Morgan, 3, left, watch television at the end of their day at Tweety’s Child Care Home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Child care providers in Tennessee and other states are struggling to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic. Troy Stolt/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP

Editor’s note: This story was updated April 27, 2020 to correct the number of children approved to attend a free child care program for essential workers in Colorado.

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

Emilu Alvarez closed her private Miami preschool and kindergarten in late March as the new coronavirus began to spread and worried parents began to keep their kids at home. She kept paying her staff as she applied for federal small business loans and local foundation grants.

But the financial help never materialized.

“This is heartbreaking,” Alvarez wrote in an email to Stateline last week. “I have run this school for 26 years and I am at a loss for words on how to guide my staff.”

The next day, she told her team that 53 of them — everyone but her secretary and the kindergarten teacher, who’s teaching remotely — were furloughed until June. Alvarez hopes to reopen the center for summer camp.

Child care centers, home daycares and after-school programs nationwide are struggling to stay open as families stay home to avoid spreading the coronavirus. As some governors prepare to lift stay-at-home orders, child care advocates warn that if businesses like Alvarez’s cannot survive, it’ll be harder for parents to return to work. 

“Every other industry relies on child care to be able to function,” said Sarah Rittling, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, a Washington D.C.-based group that advocates for child care and early childhood education.

Some states are helping. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, for instance, will pay bonuses to full-time child care employees in April and May, and will continue to pay tuition subsidies for low-income children based on February enrollments, before the pandemic hit the state.

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Sophie Quinton

Sophie Quinton writes about fiscal and economic policy for Stateline. Previously, she wrote for National Journal.