Delayed COVID Relief Put Some Day Care Owners at Risk | Local news

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When hundreds of Colorado child care providers recently completed surveys about their financial well-being, the desperation was palpable.

One of them wrote: “It’s so stressful.” Another said: “We are behind on the rent. A third delivered her message in capital letters: “NOT ENOUGH FUNDS TO KEEP THE CHILD CARE OUT OF THE WATER”.

After nearly two years of pandemic-related problems, many child providers continue to face serious financial challenges, with some taking out loans or selling goods to make ends meet. Others say they are on the verge of closing for good, unless the state-promised grants arrive soon.

It may take a month or more for the first payments to be made.

“People are so tired,” said Dawn Alexander, executive director of the Early Childhood Education Association of Colorado, which conducted the survey. “There comes a time when you just bend one knee and say, ‘I’m done. “”

The survey conducted by the Alexander organization, which represents private providers statewide, found that 38% of 340 people surveyed said they were at risk of shutting down permanently. While these respondents represent a small fraction of the state’s more than 3,700 licensed child care providers, their concerns mirror those revealed in other surveys over the past year.

In some cases, child care providers struggle because they cannot find staff to cover their classrooms. Labor shortages have hit many industries over the past year, but suppliers say it’s hard to compete with higher-paying fast food and retail jobs, especially in one field. as demanding as childcare.

For some providers, it’s not the staff they can’t find, it’s the customers. They say some parents still choose to stay home with their young children, both to save money on child care and because work-from-home schedules continue to allow it.

The Early Childhood Education Association survey found that 40% of providers surveyed said they had commercial debt and 46% said they had personal debt pending the latest round of COVID relief – $ 222 million in grants from stabilization for child care – happen.

Application for these grants, which are funded with federal dollars, was supposed to open in mid-November, but that has yet to happen as state officials have taken longer than expected to select a supplier. to process the grant payments, a spokesperson for the state’s early childhood office said.

She said the grant application would now open in January, but could not specify an exact date.

Non-competitive grants will be available to all licensed child care providers as well as some non-licensed providers. Once eligible vendors submit an application, they will receive the first recurring monthly grant payments within two to four weeks, she said.

One survey respondent lamented the delay, writing: “We were hoping to give staff a vacation bonus, but we are still waiting. If we go ahead and do it with no cash on hand, it’s super risky. It seems that there has been enough time to find the provider and get it up and running.

Brenda DeMuth, who runs a before and after school program at her Golden home, said she would keep her eyes peeled for the stabilization grant application, but didn’t seem particularly optimistic. She recently sold her RV and tapped into her retirement savings to make ends meet.

“I can’t hang on any longer,” said DeMuth, who received his state child care license just before the pandemic hit.

Last school year, DeMuth served some children attending a distant school. This year, she only occupied three of the six places for after-school care and none for before-school care. She tried to distribute flyers, advertise online, and sometimes even park her “Golden Explorers” childcare van in nearby elementary schools. Nothing worked.

That’s not the scenario DeMuth, soon to be 60, envisioned when she stepped down as an executive assistant a few years ago. She planned to spend her early retirement years running a childcare business like she did decades ago when her son was little. Then, just as she received her state license for child care in January 2020, the pandemic struck.

This year, she is on track to earn just $ 20,000 and worries about spending her retirement money long before she turns 65.

About 40 kilometers from Commerce City, Valerie Holman and Drenna Hill, who own The Learning Experience daycare in the rapidly developing Reunion Island, faced their own series of financial hardships this fall.

There were a lot of families looking for child care, but too few teachers. The understaffing prompted them to close some classrooms for two months, which resulted in a loss of $ 30,000 because they credited parents for lost child care days. Holman and Hill recently reopened the bedrooms. As they spend the extra money on overtime and substitute teachers, Holman said they are losing less than before.

The Learning Experience-Reunion center opened in September 2019 and remained open even after the pandemic, serving the children of essential workers.

“Our brand is for working families,” said Holman. “We felt like we couldn’t close. We had to find something.

They’re always in that mode, with Holman regularly putting aside his administrative duties so that he can cover teachers who are sick or absent for other reasons. The center has room for 148 children, but only has 90 due to lack of staff. Holman said the center will break even once it adds five more children.

“It’s getting better little by little, but we still need help,” she said.

Chalkbeat is a non-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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