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‘The payment came too late’: Maryland child care centers ponder long-term consequences of coronavirus pandemic

Although the Maryland State Department of Education has made reimbursement payments and given grants to child care centers that remain open for the children of essential personnel during the coronavirus pandemic, some providers remain concerned about the short-term and long-term viability of their businesses.

MSDE on May 1 announced that it was up to date with payments to essential child care providers, processing invoices for the first service period, as well as two grant payments to each provider. But many providers are wary of how their businesses will fare even after stay-at-home orders are lifted.

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AliceAnne Loftus, owner of Bright Beginnings Children’s Learning Centers in Glen Burnie and in Crownsville, said she received her first payment May 1. The $1,600 she received was a windfall for her business, the funding for which was “depleted.”

Mark Bavaria of Glen Burnie speaks with Nerrys Cancel, lead teacher, as he drops his grandson, Maxx Bavaria, 4, off at Bright Beginnings Learning Center. Parents and caregivers are no longer allowed inside due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bright Beginnings is one of the child care centers struggling under the state mandate to limit day care to children of essential personnel. Four of six teachers were laid off to cut expenses. April 14, 2020.
Mark Bavaria of Glen Burnie speaks with Nerrys Cancel, lead teacher, as he drops his grandson, Maxx Bavaria, 4, off at Bright Beginnings Learning Center. Parents and caregivers are no longer allowed inside due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bright Beginnings is one of the child care centers struggling under the state mandate to limit day care to children of essential personnel. Four of six teachers were laid off to cut expenses. April 14, 2020.(Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Loftus had to furlough more than half her staff as statewide restrictions were imposed to stop the spread of the virus. After her Paycheck Protection Program loan payment, she was able to bring back her employees.

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“We’re just doing our due diligence and making sure that we’re submitting our invoices,” Loftus said. “And then I’m staying on top of it. We’re documenting everything [making sure] that things on our side of things are pretty buttoned-up and that our system is solid, so that it makes their job easier in processing our invoices and our payment.”

Kenda Watson, owner of Watson Hall Montessori school in Catonsville, said Tuesday she was still in the process of obtaining payment for the first service period. But as she is now caring for just two children, she said she has to consider the costs and benefits of paying operating expenses such as the rent to remain open.

“The payment at this point, I don’t know if it will do anything,“ Watson said.

Danielle Lofland shuttered her child care businesses in Pasadena and Kent Island in mid-April citing safety and financial concerns.

Despite early reimbursement from the state, Lofland said the viability of her space — even after stay-at-home orders are relaxed — remains uncertain.

“We do have a lot of parents who have committed to coming back, but it’s really going to matter on how many of them actually still have jobs once the economy gets ready to open,” Lofland said. “I think a lot of them are still unsure of that right now.”

Lofland added that extended restrictions on capacity in centers could continue to affect her income.

Maryland is in the first stage of Gov. Larry Hogan’s three-stage plan to reopen the economy. Stage two allows for regular child care.

At his Wednesday news conference announcing the lifting of additional restrictions, Hogan said state schools Superintendent Karen Salmon and the State Department of Education are working on a reopening plan for child care centers to be released early next week.

On May 6, officials announced the closure of public schools for the remainder of the academic year. Public schools are not mentioned in any stages of Hogan’s plan.

Watson said she has yet to hear from MSDE on plans for reopening but is hopeful child care centers will be back at full capacity by “hopefully September.”

Nationwide employment in education and health services declined by 2.5 million people in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with 336,000 jobs lost in child day care services. Experts have warned about the continued impact in this industry without state and federal intervention.

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According to Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit designed to assist families with child care, 24 states reported a decrease in child care programs from 2017 to 2018.

In a letter addressed to members of the U.S. Congress, Child Care Aware of America urged increased investment in child care programs across the country, specifically asking for at least $50 billion in aid as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This funding would not only help provide emergency care for health care workers and other essential personnel in the immediate term,” the nonprofit wrote, “but would also prevent child care programs from closing permanently and help working families access these programs upon their return to work in the months ahead.”

Owners of child care centers have expressed gratitude for MSDE’s increased activity in recent weeks, but for an industry that already lived on the margins, questions remain about how much businesses will be affected in the coming weeks and months.

“I think child care was fortunate that they did have this emergency personnel option,” Lofland said, "but I think that for some of us, the payment came too late and we just weren’t able to sustain our business operations.

“But I’m very confident that once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, I’ll be able to go back in and take care of the children that we’ve serviced throughout the years and employ our staff again.”

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