Maryland Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon said Tuesday that her office has doubled the number of employees working to pay the child care providers of essential workers.
And the Maryland State Department of Education expects that all 3,700 providers in the newly established Essential Personnel Child Care Program will be paid for their first two weeks of service by the end of this week.
Those providers should also receive two grant payments to help with costs related to the COVID-19 virus, Salmon said.
Last week, child care providers, who hadn’t been paid since they agreed to take part in the state-funded program in late March, issued dire warnings about their financial health as they approached a full month without payment.
In an interview with Maryland Matters on Tuesday, Salmon said the department was dealing with an unprecedented situation and “faced more hurdles than we expected” during the rollout of the program, which allowed roughly half of the state’s child care providers to reopen, but under strict public health guidelines to serve only children of essential workers.
“We’ve really, really worked hard to get this done, and I want to thank the daycare prior providers for being patient,” Salmon said Tuesday. “Because we really do appreciate their service and know how especially important they are right now to all of our essential personnel.”
Maryland’s education department made payments to about 2,300 providers on Monday and expected to make another 1,400 payments on Tuesday, Salmon said. The state also started to make some payments for providers’ initial expenses last week, officials said.
Through the essential care program, the state agreed to pay providers $250 a week for children older than 3 years old and $350 a week for children under 3.
All providers are receiving a new $2,000 grant, announced last week, to help with coronavirus-related expenses, in addition to earlier promised grants of $800 for home care providers and $1,600 for child care centers, Salmon said.
Christina Peusch, executive director of the Maryland State Child Care Association, said about $6 million in payments had been made as of Tuesday.
While the new invoicing process may require additional tweaks, Peusch expressed optimism about payments.
“I think providers are feeling like they’re heard and that the sense of urgency is there to keep them open and pay their staff and care for essential personnel,” she said.
Future invoices, including a second two-week payment period that ended last week, should be processed more quickly and smoothly, Salmon said.
The education department has also committed to increased communication with providers, who can now get help through an online form, five new phone lines and a dedicated email account. Salmon said she took a few minutes on Monday to call the numbers, making sure they were being answered and to check in with education department employees.
Salmon said the department is also planning to hold listening sessions with child care providers in the next two weeks and will involve child care associations in drafting a “recovery plan” for public education in the state.
Salmon said the recovery plan is in the beginning stages but will complement economic reopening plans from Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and will consider ways that education and child care programs in the state might change into the future.
“These are very trying times, and I can certainly understand that folks are trying to figure out what’s next, and when will this end,” Salmon said. “I think we just have to hang in there, take one day at a time and really celebrate the fact that these folks stepped up to do a very difficult job during a very difficult time.”