More than half of child care providers in Maryland said that they may have to close their operations due to financial losses and restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although a reduced number of the state’s child care programs are currently open for children of essential workers, these programs are operating at reduced capacity. They are limited by strict ratios, such as no more than 10 children per classroom, to enforce physical distancing and other public health guidelines.
Maryland Family Network is a non-profit statewide network of licensed child care centers. The organization conducted a survey from May 5-15, asking licensed child care providers across Maryland about their experiences in the midst of this pandemic. The survey included questions about financial loss due to COVID-19, participation in government relief programs and current enrollment numbers.
Respondents expressed the need for ongoing financial support in order to remain open or eventually reopen, as a majority indicated that they were losing between $1,000 – $5,000 per week since a state of emergency was declared in March. Especially if group size limitations continue, financial aid is essential for child care programs to operate at reasonable tuition rates for working families, the providers said.
Seventy-two percent of respondents said they believed that government grants for fixed operating costs would be significantly helpful, and 30% expressed that they wanted better access to cleaning supplies and protection equipment.
Child care providers also indicated that they wanted assistance in applying for government programs, particularly those that were not traditionally available to small businesses prior to the pandemic. Most respondents had not applied for short-term relief programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan that helps businesses keep their workforce employed during COVID-19.
If half of the state’s child care programs shut down, as the survey results suggest, Doug Lent, communications director of Maryland Family Network, worried that there would not be a strong enough infrastructure for parents to go back to work. There could also be a rise in unsafe and unregulated child care, he said.
“Maryland would be paying for [closure of half of child care programs] for decades in lost wages, decreased physical and mental health, and in significantly increased social spending on incarceration, drug treatment and special education,” according to a statement by Maryland Family Network.
On May 27, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Child Care is Essential Act, which would provide $50 billion to help stabilize the child care sector. “If we want a viable child care system on the other side of this COVID-19 outbreak, we need to not just pay for children of essential personnel, but also on infrastructure,” said Steve Rohde, the deputy director of Maryland Family Network.
Even before the pandemic, many parents struggled to find affordable child care and will be in even worse binds now, according to Rohde.
“We are going to need a more robust system for child care in Maryland,” he said. “It can’t be returned to normal, it has to be a return to better.”