Minnesota’s Economic News – W/E 4/16/21
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The coronavirus has deeply affected many industries of our economy. Childcare is one of those. Due to the widely mandated stay at home orders, parents could not afford to send kids to centers or had no need for childcare services. Others were just cautious of the health risks and preferred to have their kids stay at home.
A couple of things resulted from this lockdown. Some providers had to shut down permanently as they could not afford to continue operations. Others closed down temporarily and decided to wait for things to cool down. Others stayed open and continued to serve kids of essential workers, mostly with the help of grants.
But states are reopening now, and childcare providers are facing a new enemy. Even though most states have given a green light for providers to open, some are choosing no to. This is because providers feel they would have trouble operating while following current health and safety protocols. Social distancing, as well as sanitization rules, have raised operating costs for providers.
In the wake of the Coronavirus, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put out some guidelines for providers to follow. These rules are meant to enforce social distancing as well as sanitizing guidelines to prevent spread. States have had to form their own health and safety protocols for their providers.
States have enforced, among others, a variation of some of the following rules:
1)Group sizes can no longer exceed 10 children regardless of age group
2) There can be no more than 12 individuals in a classroom at a given time, including Staff members
3) Children must remain in the same group each day and at all times
4) Staff and children required to wear face coverings or have their faces covers.
Providers have a responsibility to keep kids safe, as they should. But these rules will make it hard for them to operate. Apart from being costly, some providers have complained that the new rules would also be detrimental to children as well as unrealistic and impossible to follow. In, Massachusetts, for example, more than 26,000 people signed a petition calling for a revision of the new health and safety protocols.
“By reducing enrollment, requiring more staff and space per child, and by increasing costs for multiple supplies needed, you will cripple private pay businesses,” the petition says. “Along with these strict guidelines that will be next to impossible to follow properly, you are forcing teachers to do anything but teach.”
“Hugging, sharing, high fives, and hand holding will be discouraged if not forbidden,” the petition says. “Everyone will have their emotions masked, literally. No soft toys, so no cuddling. No playing or sharing of toys or items. No group games or activities (even outdoors), so therefore no teamwork, skill building work, or collaborative thought. Disinfecting and sanitizing everything multiple times, all day long, so no good germs to build immune systems.”
Some child care providers– like Sherry Hasche, owner of Right-At-Home Daycare in Westford – say they’re concerned these restrictive rules could lead to the collapse of the already fragile child care system here.
“A lot of providers are leaving, they’re not going back because they can’t afford the cut in numbers and they also can’t afford to pay for all of these safety protocols,” Hasche said.
Laura Katragjini runs the Country Montessori Preschool and Early Learning Center in Sutton and says she doesn’t know how she can explain to families already enrolled that she needs to cut her numbers from more than 80 children to just 30 – especially when she’s been operating emergency care under the previous ratios.
“How was it OK to fit 20 kids in a classroom now during the height of the pandemic, and then all of a sudden, you’re going to have the general population come back, and we have to cut it in half?” Katragjini asked
Other providers, who also talked to NBC10 Boston do realize, they cannot stay open for long without these rules or will need financial help in the future. This will definitely be a common issue among states as they expand reopening.
“We understand that it is our choice to open in July, and that programs who cannot adhere to the new requirements may remain closed. Since we will incur significant losses, either way, we will attempt to open for our families in July and August. But, we will not be able to remain open in September if the requirements remain the same; instead, we’ll have to close our doors for good. If the last 11 weeks of mandated closure did not put us out of business, these new requirements surely will,” said Michael Gustafson of the Dracut Children’s House.
“Unfortunately, childcare was already broken when it came to finances before the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers have been fighting for years for higher wages and parents have been fighting for lower tuition costs. I do not see how private childcare centers will be able to survive having smaller ratios without some kind of financial assistance from the government or from EEC to supplement the loss,” said Melissa Denish, director of a child care center and an advocate for the child care community.
Providers all over the country are worried about the new rules. Providers in New York have expressed worry about how the new rules are putting them in a financial strain. But luckily for providers servicing essential workers, they were able to get federal funding. This funding will probably not be available for most private providers when they move into general reopening.
As one provider explained:
“While we are committed to staying open and following all healthy and safety guidelines, the limited capacity continues to put a financial strain on the business and limits child care availability to many of my existing clients,”
Childcare is essential for the economy. And right now, access to childcare will be a critical factor in deciding when parents will be able to go back to work. It is no secret the industry has faced issues with shortage and high prices before. And these issues are partly a result of too much regulation. It is important that providers keep kids safe. But this is a critical time for the childcare industry. And these rules will do more harm than good to the industry.