Post-Gazette: Pennsylvania child care centers at ‘breaking point’ due to mandated COVID-19 closures
By: Kate Giammarise March 24, 2020

Child care providers throughout Pennsylvania — most of which have been temporarily closed since last week — say they might not be able to reopen for business without direct and immediate state aid, should the closure last beyond a month.

On Tuesday, several statewide child care advocacy groups said action is needed from the governor and legislature to preserve child care for essential workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — and to ensure the system’s survival for when all families are able to return to work.

The system is “truly at a breaking point,” said Cara Ciminillo, executive director of Pittsburgh-based advocacy organization Trying Together, speaking Tuesday on a conference call with reporters.

Providers are being hammered by a combination of an already fragile infrastructure and staffers who often earn low wages, combined with the sudden halt of tuition payments from parents and the prospect of an uncertain and potentially prolonged period of closure.

Gov. Tom Wolf ordered child care centers closed statewide for two weeks as of last Tuesday along with other “nonessential businesses,” though centers that serve the children of workers deemed essential — such as first responders and front-line healthcare workers like nurses — can apply for waivers to remain open.

As of Tuesday, the state had processed and approved 670 waivers, said a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Human Services.

In the meantime, child care advocates Pre-K for PA and Start Strong PA are asking the state to continue to pay the subsidies it would normally pay as part of the Pre-K Counts and Head Start programs, in addition to $17 million to compensate for lost co-pays, $100 million in lost tuition payments from parents, and $50 million to extend programs like Head Start into the summer.

About one-third of the agencies that responded to a survey by the Pennsylvania Child Care Association said they would not be able to reopen if the state-mandated closure lasts beyond a month. That will harm any economic recovery, they said.

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