Child care providers have been asked to step up by governors everywhere, including Gov. Tim Walz, to care for children of emergency personnel fighting COVID-19, including health care, food and power supply and public safety workers. So far, they received no emergency funding support. At the same time, providers are facing significant financial challenges. Our enrollment dropped 70% within one week as many families kept young children home if they were able. Even more financial pressure is caused by having to reduce class sizes and add more health and safety precautions to keep our children and teachers safe from COVID-19.
Despite providers’ desire to continue to support the front-line fight — against the virus and for our economy — the unsupported child care industry is collapsing. Providers are closing, and many will not reopen. National organizations like the Early Care and Education Consortium believe that more than 75% may close nationally within a week if we do not take action.
Providers were holding out hope that Congress would come through with $50 billion in federal stimulus funding for child care. That didn’t happen in the federal legislation negotiated this week. Now the burden falls to the state.
In Minnesota, we want to thank Gov. Walz, Reps. Dave Pinto and Lisa Demuth, and Sens. Karin Housley and Melisa Franzen for spearheading the effort to create an emergency child-care package. Today, it’s critically important that the House and Senate pass the $30 million emergency fund Gov. Walz proposed. This support will help the over 1,200 providers who have stepped forward to serve essential workers the ability to do so for 90 days. If the support is voted down, most of these providers will close their doors.
Lawmakers must finally recognize child care as the economic backbone that it is. For too many years, Minnesota has not only stood still but regressed from supporting working families’ child-care needs. We were already woefully behind other states — to the point of where Minnesota is being penalized by the federal government for not maintaining minimum standards of support. Don’t further neglect the teachers caring for our children. If they’re aren’t supported, they aren’t coming back. It’s time to stop putting them off and start recognizing them as essential workers who are heroes in this economy, today and every day.
What keeps us going are the numerous stories of health care professionals, prison guards, Federal Reserve Bank employees, grocery workers and more sharing how they couldn’t be fighting the virus if their children weren’t safe and secure. Last week one of our parents, a physician, told us he was able to save a life because he was able to be there, at work, to do it.
The voice of the child care industry is not being heard in Washington, D.C. Minnesota cannot afford another week with a significant loss of additional child care providers. We expect the strain to remain as Minnesota gears up for a much higher COVID-19 caseload and need for every essential worker to keep fighting. We will need more child care, not less.
To our legislators: Please vote for child care relief today so we can keep our doors open tomorrow. Give children the normalcy, security, and continued playful learning they need during this crisis, with the friends they know and the teachers they love, as their parents take on the fight of their lives.
Chad Dunkley is president, Minnesota Child Care Association, and CEO of New Horizon Academy.