The 19th: Child care programs see closures, resignations and tuition hikes after federal funding expires
In Fairmont, West Virginia, Helen Post-Brown owns and operates an early learning program licensed to serve 160 children. These days, due to staff shortages, she can only accommodate about half that many.
A dozen miles down the road, in Bridgeport, five of the 25 classrooms in Jennifer Trippett’s child care center sit dark and empty. Families in the community are desperately awaiting her call for a spot: More than 400 children are on the waitlist. But without teachers, she can’t take in more kids.
Another 120 miles south, in the town of Oak Hill, staff at Melissa Colagrosso’s early education program are reeling from pay cuts that went into effect in October. They aren’t sure how they’ll make their next car payment or cover their phone bill. They might need to apply for public assistance — and maybe a new job. Colagrosso wouldn’t blame them, she admits. She is already bracing herself for their resignations. If those come, she will have to consider closing classrooms and turning families away.
It’s been two months since the federal government’s $24 billion in child care stabilization grants expired, sending the sector over what many have come to refer to as the “child care cliff.”
“What’s happening in West Virginia is not an anomaly,” says Melissa Boteach, vice president of child care and income security at the National Women’s Law Center. “It is echoed by the experiences of child care providers and parents across the country.”
…The essential worker exception, however, has ended, after being phased out over the last year. So those employees who came back to work for Trippett once their child care costs were covered? “They’ve left again,” she says; so have many of the moms who had re-entered the workforce.
…The wage supplements ended on Sept. 30. All of Colagrosso’s employees, as a result, took a pay cut of $400 a month. For many, though they knew the funding was always supposed to be temporary, that first paycheck in October was sobering.
…Colagrosso hasn’t lost any teachers yet, so she’s been able to keep her classrooms open. But she did increase her prices by 20 percent, effective Oct. 15.
It was necessary to offset the funds that disappeared, Colagrosso says. She gave families two weeks’ notice and hopes to “ease everyone into it” by not enforcing the tuition hikes until their child transitions to the next age group.
Ellie O’Keefe is among the parents who received the notice from A Place to Grow, which her toddler attends. She’s currently paying $155 a week for full-time care. Based on the center’s pricing model, she expected her costs to go down when her son turns 3 in a few months. Instead, her pay will go up to $170 a week when he transitions to the 3-year-old classroom.
…Tens of thousands of Americans missed work in October, the first month without stabilization grants, due to child care problems, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 92,000 Americans who typically work full time reported having to work part time for at least one week last month because of issues with their child care arrangements, compared to 55,000 Americans in September.
Those numbers should be a wakeup call to elected leaders, Boteach of the National Women’s Law Center says.
“It’s an economic imperative. It’s a moral imperative. But lawmakers should also see it as a political imperative: It’s affecting families’ bottom line,” she says.
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NPR: $400-a-month pandemic bonuses were life-changing for child care workers. That’s over
Funded through $24 billion in pandemic relief Congress approved in 2021, the bonuses made life a lot easier for the center’s teachers and staff.
But with the expiration of the federal money on September 30 came the end to those bonuses.
“All of the staff have taken a $400-a-month pay cut,” says Colagrosso.
…In addition to curbing bonuses, she has ended paid sick leave for part-time staff and says she will end it for full-time staff soon. She’s eliminated a floating position, someone to help out wherever extra help was needed.
No longer will she be giving $1 an hour raises every year, as she has for the past three. She may resort to larger child-to-teacher ratios, which she says would affect quality.
Read more here.
AP: Child care programs just lost thousands of federal dollars. Families and providers scramble to cope
…If West Virginia wants to grow its economy, child care is part the infrastructure necessary for that to happen, Tiffany Gale said. She isn’t a parent herself, but just months before the pandemic started, she began caring for six children at her home in West Virginia’s northern panhandle.
In just three years, she’s moved up a level in the state’s quality rating status and expanded into an empty commercial space downtown. She has five staff members and 18 children — 24 split between the two sites — who would have otherwise been waitlisted. Three-quarters of them are considered low-income, and qualify for government-subsidized care.
With the help of federal subsidies, Gale was able to purchase the two units next door. But now that the pandemic-era support is ending, Gale doesn’t know if she’ll be able to stay in business.
Read more here.