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Maryland expanding child care for families returning to work during coronavirus reopening

Maryland officials are expanding child care access to workers returning to their jobs during the first phase of the state’s recovery from coronavirus shutdowns, the state department of education announced Wednesday.

The agency also announced a change in how day care providers will be paid. The state will end provider payments for the children of essential workers on June 7. After that date, parents will pay for the cost, the department said.

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Child care centers and family based child care have been closed for all but the children of essential workers since March 25. Parents returning to work under this first phase of reopening, even if they are not deemed essential workers, are now able to get child care.

Rich Huffman, CEO of the Celebree day care and education program, said his company was blindsided by the announcement and it may have to start turning away families in two weeks unless the state expands the size of classes allowed at day care centers.

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He said Celebree, which runs child care programs throughout Maryland, was not given any advanced warning on the move to allow more families to access child care services nor the decision to end state subsidies next month.

The company is anticipating a “huge capacity issue,” Huffman said. Celebree’s class size is currently half of its usual capacity. In the past month, 400 children have come back to the child care centers, and they will have only about 200 spots left for the children of workers who are rejoining the work force under the current phase of reopening.

“We just had our funding pulled from us with a two-week notice and we’re also still restrained on our group sizes,” Huffman said.

Day care programs need to be allowed to operate under updated guidelines, he said, with facilities allowed to have groups of up to 50 people. Celebree is currently limited to 10 people per room.

He also warned that the state's decision could push people to use unlicensed child care providers, as shuttered businesses have less incentive to reopen with the state still limiting group sizes.

“We have essential workers who won’t even be able to find a preschool,” Huffman said.

Over the past two weeks, the state has expanded child care to 125 sites with capacity for 21,500 additional children than are presently being served. Parents who use those new spots will pay the tuition directly to the centers. There are now 3,908 child care sites open across the state.

The department said it will ensure that child care for school aged children would continue through the end of the school year for essential workers.

Families who can keep their children at home are still encouraged to do so, state officials said.

Any child care providers that have been closed can now apply to reopen after they meet health and safety standards. The new locations can get up to $1,600 grants for cleaning.

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