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Invest in Maryland’s child care for the sake of the future | READER COMMENTARY

Alice McGraw, 2, at the Mount Olympus monument in San Francisco on Nov. 25, 2020. COVID-19 has meant the youngest children can’t go to birthday parties or play dates. Parents are keeping them out of day care. What is the long-term effect of the pandemic on our next generation? (Cayce Clifford/The New York Times)
Alice McGraw, 2, at the Mount Olympus monument in San Francisco on Nov. 25, 2020. COVID-19 has meant the youngest children can’t go to birthday parties or play dates. Parents are keeping them out of day care. What is the long-term effect of the pandemic on our next generation? (Cayce Clifford/The New York Times)

It has been one year since the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in Maryland. Despite the risks, child care providers have remained open and caring for Maryland’s children as long as their government, their health and their bank accounts would allow it. Most risked their lives and their livelihoods at great personal expense because they believed the maxim, “we are all in this together.”

In January of 2021, Maryland Family Network surveyed child care providers across our state to learn how they are faring during the pandemic. “Caring in a Time of Pandemic: Will Maryland’s Child Care Survive COVID-19?” highlights the results of the survey and describes the financial impact COVID-19 has had on the industry. Seventy-nine percent of providers say they have experienced a financial loss due to COVID-19. On average, child care programs report paying out $5,339 per month for personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning routines and other pandemic-related costs to keep children and staff safe. Still, 49% of child care programs predict that they may close for good if parents must keep children home for another six months.

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We are extremely pleased that Congress rallied to pass the American Rescue Plan (”Massive national COVID relief bill a ‘lifeline’ for Baltimore, mayor says,” March 10) which includes a reported $39 billion for child care relief and support. This comes on top of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 which allocated $120 million in federal funding to Maryland to support child care. Of that, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the Maryland State Department of Education is establishing a $60 million grant program to help licensed child care centers and family child care providers throughout the state meet operating costs and address lost revenue due to the pandemic. Both of these relief packages acknowledge the pain felt by an industry which every single one of us — children, parents, employers — relies on to keep the wheels of our economy turning.

But is only the start of what is needed. The pandemic has demonstrated that child care is an essential public good. If we are to raise the next generation of leaders who can restore Maryland to the top of the rankings for production, innovation and education, we need to do more than prop up child care. We must continue to invest in it even in times when it seems that there is no imminent emergency. If not, we will be creating an educational, social and economic emergency for our children.

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Laura Weeldreyer, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of Maryland Family Network.

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