The Maryland State Department of Education will offer relief to child care providers serving the children of essential workers in the state in the form of a one-time grant.
In a statement, the department said providers will each receive a $2,000 payment by next week. It also pledged to offer “seamless, prompt” reimbursements to providers in coordination with the Maryland comptroller’s General Accounting Division.
The announcement comes as providers criticize the state’s handling of their business since the coronavirus forced schools to close through at least mid-May. The state made an exception for licensed child care providers, who can stay open, but only for the children of essential workers, who do not have to pay for their kids to attend.
This leaves gaping holes in revenue, providers told The Baltimore Sun. Some have closed their doors, unable to pay the bills and uncertain if they can recover when the virus abates. Others have continued to provide in-person care and virtual lessons, accumulating debt and seeking full or partial tuition from the families of nonessential workers and requesting donations of supplies and snacks.
Maryland State Schools Superintendent Karen B. Salmon said providers should be flexible in honoring contract provisions, but the state has not issued firm guidance on whether providers can charge anything.
Although providers can submit reimbursement invoices to the state education department every two weeks, some said the money does not cover the ongoing costs — particularly for those used to being paid weekly by parents — and does not reach their bank accounts quickly enough.
The state is currently reimbursing centers at a rate of $350 per week for children 6 weeks old to 3 years old and $250 a week for kids ages 3 to 13 — which can be less than the weekly cost of child care in the most expensive parts of the state.
In the statement, Salmon said false information circulated on social media accusing the comptroller’s office of delaying provider payments.
“We regret that the Comptroller’s role in this process has been mischaracterized," Salmon said. “The Comptroller’s Office, as has always been the case on matters such as this, has been exceptionally responsive, providing us with all of the information we need to authorize reimbursements.”
She also said the state education department has worked diligently to ensure child care services “are delivered in accordance with the standards that Maryland families deserve.”
"We remain deeply grateful to our providers who are doing so much to ease the burden on our state’s essential workers,” she said.