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Child care providers facing financial trouble due to COVID-19 pandemic

Tyden Brownlee, 5, picks up a free school lunch at Olympic Hills Elementary School on March 18, 2020 in Seattle, following the school closures due to COVID-19. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all schools in Washington state to close starting March 17, 2020, to limit the spread of COVID-19, but child care providers were not included in the closure requirement. The Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) says it was left out for two reasons: First, child care settings are often smaller in number than K-12 school settings; and second, this care is a critical need for essential personnel on the front lines of the pandemic.

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Some centers have remained open as “essential” businesses, but thousands of other licensed child care providers have had to close or are now at risk of closing permanently.

Child Care Aware of Washington reports that the loss of these programs could worsen an ongoing crisis statewide where demand has exceeded supply, waiting lists are long, and the care professionals are underpaid. Grants could help some of these programs stay afloat, but not all of them.

“Washington’s child care providers have financially been hanging on by a proverbial thread for decades. The loss of much of their income from so many children being kept at home, combined with the increased costs of running a child care small business during the pandemic, have forced hundreds to temporarily close their doors. Those that have remained open are struggling to operate on reduced incomes and without personal protective equipment and health insurance,” said Deeann Burtch Puffert, CEO for Child Care Aware of Washington. “Our state must recognize the crucial role child care plays in reopening and sustaining our economy because most parents of young children work. Investments in the child care industry are investments in all other industries because investing in child care allows parents to work and employers to operate.”

Earlier this month, the DCYF offered support to providers under the Child Care Development Block Grant’s CARE Act, which gives a grant to licensed providers in Washington that are open on the date of the release and providing care.

“We recognize the challenges our providers have faced during this unprecedented time,” said DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter. “It’s important that we create a simplified process to provide support and stabilization for child care providers in our state in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Providers may apply online to receive these one-time funds, and amounts are based on licensed capacity. Funds can be spent on rent, personnel, utilities, health and safety, or cleaning supplies and food. The grant funding application period closes June 30 or upon the exhaustion of funds.

With only select providers currently open, check with your own provider for any new health rules. KinderCare centers in Washington state are reopening with updated health and safety procedures in place, including health training for teachers and staff, increased handwashing and sanitizing, protective equipment, temperature checks, health screenings, social distancing, and additional adjustments in line with both local and national recommendations.

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