Maryland child care providers say they need more registrations and funds to survive

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Maryland’s child care advocates told the comptroller’s task force examining pandemic stimulus spending that while the extra money has been key to stabilizing their industry, they are still operating “very thin margins.” Struggling to find skilled workers and want help more quickly.

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Ruthie Claytor owns a daycare called Grannie Annie’s Child Care and Learning Center in Anne Arundel County. Claytor told the Comptroller’s Task Force on Pandemic Spending how the pandemic stimulus funding had helped stabilize his business, but asked for more help to keep it going. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Shwe)

Maryland’s child care advocates told the comptroller’s task force examining pandemic stimulus spending that while the extra money has been key to stabilizing their industry, they are still operating “very thin margins.” Struggling to find skilled workers and want help more quickly.

Comptroller Peter VR Franchot (R) called the state’s shortage of childcare services and the ongoing struggle to stay open the ‘worst example of government failure’.

“Child care is something that is tied to the overall economic prosperity of the state… we need to have child care,” he said.

Since the pandemic hit the state in March 2020, Maryland has lost 751 child care providers. And daycares continue to close due to declining enrollments, rising expenses and understaffing, Christina Peusch, executive director of the Maryland State Childcare Association, told the task force.

Almost half of the daycares that have reopened are operating at 50% capacity, Peusch said. The average daycare teacher earns $ 26,000 a year, while a daycare director earns an average of $ 41,000, salaries that make it difficult to attract new workers, Peusch said.

Franchot created the pandemic spending task force last spring after the General Assembly asked his office to track all stimulus funds. The task force will determine whether funds have gone to intended recipients and populations most in need, examine disparities in the distribution of stimuli, and identify potential frauds.

Peusch detailed a rocky rollout of stimulus support from child care providers at the start of the pandemic. Maryland used federal funding from the CARES Act to pay for child care costs for essential Maryland workers, but providers didn’t get that money for almost six weeks and some were unable to pay their staff, Peusch said.

Second, childcare providers also received grants from the federal COVID relief program, but the grant applications were so onerous that only half of providers applied, Peusch continued.

Finally, child care providers also received $ 500 million in American Rescue Act support, including $ 300 million in direct payments. The Maryland State Department of Education was able to distribute funds to more than 5,100 claimants who applied, but released the funds later than expected, Peusch said.

“Federal emergency relief funds have provided critical support to stabilize child care programs and prevent more widespread permanent program closures, but they are failing to address the systemic challenges plaguing our child care market. children… for decades, ”Peusch said.

Since 2003, Ruthie Claytor has owned a daycare called Grannie Annie’s Child Care in and Learning Center in Anne Arundel County. In early 2020, it grew from its highest number of 75 children to 14 children in just two months. Her monthly income dropped from $ 42,000 to $ 16,000 per month.

Claytor said she received a total of $ 307,800 in stimulus loans and grants, but if her enrollment doesn’t increase soon, she only has enough money to stay open until the end of 2022. .

“Child care is not like other businesses… we can’t make something and sell more to get more income,” she said. “We have thresholds – I’m only allowed to have a certain number of children based on our square footage.”

Peusch added that the majority of child care costs are fixed and companies cannot cut expenses by working remotely.

Childcare is also unique in that it is a private enterprise that provides a public good, Peusch said.

At Wednesday’s hearing, providers also lamented the slow disbursement of funds from the Maryland State Department of Education; Child care providers were supposed to receive subsidies from the US bailout by September 30, but the MSDE was unable to meet that deadline, Peusch said.

Grant applications were also very difficult for child care providers to navigate because they are geared towards public schools and not business owners, Peusch said. Claytor said she had to use $ 20,000 of her savings to support her business because she didn’t know when or how much money would come after submitting her “very confusing request” for federal stimulus funds.

“We were really struck by the lack of urgency from the State Department of Education,” Peusch said. “If you’re trying to stay open you have to know when this money is coming, because it’s about rescue and stabilization funds – that’s what it’s supposed to be for.”

“We’re constantly screaming, we’re constantly raising our voices to be heard because there isn’t a clearly recognized place for us within K to 12,” Claytor said.

But the MSDE said it distributed the funds as quickly as it could.

“Understanding that federal ARP funds could not flow quickly enough to our providers, MSDE accelerated the grant application and approval process – disbursing over $ 150 million to over 5,000 providers. childcare services, ”said Lora Rakowski, spokesperson for MSDE. a written statement. “On an ambitious timeline, Maryland was one of the first states to distribute funds within days of hitting our preliminary target and well ahead of the US Department of Health and Human Services deadline. “

When asked what the state could do to hire skilled workers to fill vacant positions in the child care industry, Peusch said it would be helpful to relax some of the requirements to be a senior teacher in a daycare. Currently, a teacher must complete a 90-hour certification program and have at least one year of experience, but that year of experience could be forfeited as the industry faces a severe shortage, Peusch said.

Increasing pay and benefits for child care workers would also help attract new workers, Peusch said. For the next legislative session, child care advocates are pushing for bills that offer retention and recruitment bonuses for child care workers to address critical labor shortages. work, said Peusch.

The most useful thing the state can do for the child care industry is provide a plan for how and when they will distribute the rest of the American Rescue Act funding, Peusch said. . That way, child care providers can budget and plan much more efficiently, she said. “We’re sort of operating without knowing what’s coming next,” she said.

Franchot apologized on behalf of the state for its slow response to child care providers during the pandemic. “We are going to fix this problem,” Franchot said. “It has to be redeemed in a meaningful and immediate way. “

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