As Gov. Larry Hogan moves to reopen Maryland’s economy, the leaders of the seven largest jurisdictions have voiced two major concerns: child care and evictions.
Though nonessential businesses have been operating at reduced capacity for weeks across the state, Hogan only permitted child care centers for the children of nonessential workers to reopen this week. Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said the state is facing a “looming child care crisis” as many centers are in debt from the extended closures, and will be receiving limited income as they reopen to fewer kids. He worries whether many child care centers will survive at all.
In a letter from the leaders of central Maryland’s seven largest jurisdictions on Wednesday, Pittman called on Hogan to develop a plan for childcare.
“I think that this governor needs to recognize that when we talk about economic assistance, that it’s not just the owners of the business that are in trouble, it’s families. Sometimes you’ve got to invest in the people to be able to restore economic growth," Pittman said. “He is all about the economy and promoting businesses. But if families don’t have child care they cant work, and if people don’t have housing, they are not going to be able to manage their and show up and be good employees, either.”
Hogan’s office acknowledged receipt of the letter, but did not comment further.
Pittman acknowledged that the state subsidized child care for essential workers for part of the pandemic, but said, “the economic crisis is far from over and I think now is when the problem starts to get worse — when people go back to work.”
He suggested a subsidy program run by the state, which regulates child care. If the state does not act, he said the county may have to step in. He could use federal relief funds to support the industry locally, and ensure that families have a safe place to leave their children when they go back to work.
“A plan based on tuition paid for by families who have not received a paycheck for nearly three months—some of whom have been unable to access any unemployment benefits at all—is not, in our view, a viable plan," the leaders stated in their letter to Hogan.
Barbara Palmer, owner of Kingdom Kare in Odenton, said if she can’t operate at full capacity and her business doesn’t receive any direct assistance from the state, she won’t be able to stay in business for more than a couple months.
She typically serves 85 children, and after a brief shutdown in March, she’s only been able to serve about 40. At less than 50% capacity, she’s frequently worried about making rent and payroll. Even when they are allowed to start having 15 people in a room, they will be operated far below normal levels, she said.
On top of a temporary shut down and an extended period of time operating at a reduced capacity, she has had to dole out cash for cleaning, sanitation, and building a wall to comply with state guidelines. She received a grant for protective gear to safely reopen from the county’s Economic Development Corporation, but it will only carry so far.
Palmer said she’s not alone — if the state or county don’t find a way to provide direct assistance to child care centers, she thinks about half of the facilities in the county could go under. The businesses are struggling, but so are their customers. Gardner said she heard from one single mom who is a hairdresser who struggled with going back to work recently because she couldn’t find child care.
Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner said she’s already heard of four child care facilities in her jurisdiction that have permanently closed due to the economic impact of the coronavirus. For her, the letter to the governor was about asking for a partnership with the state, because these issues reach beyond county borders.
The Maryland State Department of Education said that as of Wednesday, 58% of child care facilities in the state were operating. Facilities that are just opening will receive a grant of $1,600 for child care centers, and home care centers will receive a grant of $800 for expenses related to the coronavirus, said spokesperson Lora Rakowski. She said the department is working on a response to the county leaders’ request, but did not elaborate.
Typically, the central Maryland leaders act as a body of eight, but this letter is only signed by seven. The group includes Pittman, Gardner, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young; Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.; Howard County Executive Calvin Ball; Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich; and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman was not on the call this week as the leaders finalized the letter, said his spokesperson Cynthia Mumby.
The group also called for a statewide plan for eviction prevention. Hogan put all evictions on hold as the pandemic took hold of the state, but the moratorium is expected to run out July 25. After that, the leaders wrote, they fear for what will happen to county residents.
Some jurisdictions, including Anne Arundel, Frederick, Howard and Harford counties have implemented independent rental assistance program with money they received through the federal CARES Act. Though Pittman has already put $2 million toward the program, he said he will put more if the need continues.
“Food and shelter are things that we have to provide to our residents, if we don’t it’s going to cost the county a lot more in the long run and it’s going to be a humanitarian crisis,” Pittman said. He noted that the residents that need help the most are the one’s that have not been able to receive unemployment insurance, including undocumented workers.
In the letter, the leaders wrote that many homeless prevention programs were already at capacity, and will struggle to meet the growing needs of the state, especially with social distancing measures in place.
In Anne Arundel County, officials are putting some people from homeless shelters up in hotels to prevent overcrowding situations where the virus could easily cause an outbreak.
In Howard County, Ball said the need is especially great. So far, they’ve committed $800,000 to rental assistance, but Ball thinks the state needs to create its own program with federal funds.
“This is highly relevant in Howard County given that approximately 40 percent of Howard County renters are considered ‘rent burdened,’” he wrote in an email to The Capital.
Gardner said they are calling on the state for help in this arena because the need is likely to outweigh what the counties can provide with their federal relief funds. Frederick County received $45 million, but Gardner said it’s being split between personal protection equipment, rental assistance and other causes.
“We know that at some point the prohibition on evictions and foreclosures will end, and some people are going to need significant assistance to not losing their housing,” Gardner said. “We need to have a statewide plan to address this situation and it may take more funding than the counties have a available.”