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‘We Are At The Breaking Point:’ California’s Childcare Providers Sound The Alarm

A closed playground at The Madeleine Elementary School in northeast Portland, March 21, 2020.

Daycare providers say they need help to be able to keep providing that essential service.

While many families are still working and learning remotely, thousands of California workers have continued to care for the children of the state’s essential workers. But many say they need more financial support from the state if their profession is going to survive the pandemic.

“We are not getting by,” said Charlotte Neal, a Sacramento-based childcare provider of nearly two decades. “We are stretched to the limit.”

Neal said childcare providers are working long hours — her first child gets dropped off at 3 in the morning — and they have taken on extra utility and sanitation costs during the pandemic.

Some childcare centers have upgraded their wi-fi so students can access virtual classrooms while in daycare.

“I’ve followed sanitary guidelines, footing the bills of added costs and cleaning supplies and staff,” said Katina Richardson, a provider in Alameda County. “I’ve transformed areas in my home into quiet learning spaces to help my school-aged children concentrate in their studies.”

But childcare providers say these problems persist despite new bargaining powers with the state.

These providers, who own or run child care businesses out of their own homes, were only recently allowed to unionize under Assembly Bill 378, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year. Thousands of providers voted to unionize earlier this summer under a partnership with two influential unions, SEIU and UDW/AFSCME.

But the state is not fulfilling its obligation to meet with union representatives to discuss these challenges, said Childcare Providers United chairman Max Arias. Workers want to negotiate with the Newsom administration on solutions they say could help them make it through the pandemic.

Arias said providers are asking the state to increase reimbursement rates for childcare workers who are facilitating distance learning for children in their care. The union also wants financial support for providers who are forced to temporarily shut down due to COVID-19 scares.

“In order for this to work, we need the state to collaborate with us as required by AB 378,” he said. “The state is shutting the door in our face, and we, in turn, are having to shut the doors on families around California. Let’s instead immediately figure out how to strengthen childcare and support school students who are learning in family childcare homes.”

The union filed an unfair practice charge with the state Public Employment Relations Board alleging the California Department of Human Resources (CalHR) has not provided substantive responses to requests for meetings and information.

Amy Palmer, a spokesperson for the state Government Operations Agency said CalHR had received the filing and was reviewing it.

According to Child Care Providers United, more than 5,700 providers have had to close their doors during the coronavirus pandemic, affecting care for an estimated 60,000 children.

Arias warned that as more daycares close, the state will face a childcare shortage when the virus subsides and parents are ready to return to the office.

“We are at a breaking point,” he said. “If state leaders fail to act now to save childcare, California’s economic recovery from COVID-19 will be severely compromised.”

In April, Newsom approved $100 million in emergency funding for childcare services for essential workers. Half of the money was budgeted to reimburse providers for sanitation supplies and personal protective equipment.

Assemblywoman Monique Limon, who authored the legislation which allowed childcare workers to unionize, said in a statement the state should do more to boost child care providers during this time.

“The Legislature has heavily advocated for the release of emergency funding to help support child care,” she said. “I am hopeful the administration and Child Care Providers United can reach an agreement for the sake of children in our state and workers.”

Those in the childcare profession say there wasn’t enough support before the pandemic, but they have been stretched to a breaking point this year.

Richardson made a personal plea to Gov. Newsom, who campaigned for governor on expanded early childhood education and childcare: “You said that you would support providers [and] childcare educators. Now is the time to do so.”

Copyright 2020 CapRadio