By Adam Pagnucco.
Child care providers have been as hard hit as any other industry by the COVID-19 crisis and are struggling to survive. The county is considering a $10 million grant program to help providers make it through the crisis. Shaun Rose, President of Rock Spring Children’s Center in Bethesda, has a number of ideas for improving the county’s grant program so that it can have the maximum impact. Following is his testimony before the county council.
Dear Council President Katz,
I write to express my support for the ECEI Recovery Fund, but urge you to make several amendments to more efficiently use the funds to accomplish the goal of supporting child care programs that are attempting to reopen and/or stay open to provide care to the County’s families while facing severe challenges to economic viability.
For the past 15 years, I have been involved in child care and early childhood development as both a parent and then as the president of Rock Spring Children’s Center. Rock Spring is a nonprofit child care & preschool facility that attempts to meet the needs of the families and children in our community with spots for 176 infants through pre-k children. As a former representative of child care providers in both elected and appointed capacities, I have testified regularly about the critical need for more resources to better support parental needs for quality child care, to bolster & expand child care businesses, and to improve the wages of child care workers. As a former Chair of the County’s Commission on Child Care, I volunteered for over 6 years to advise the County on child care policy issues.
The situation is dire for child care programs in Montgomery County and across the nation. A recent survey by the Maryland Family Network found that, without significant governmental assistance, many child care programs in the State may close forever (https://www.marylandfamilynetwork.org/news/over-half-marylands-child-care-programs-mayclose-due-covid-19-pandemic). My center reopened on June 1 with an enrollment of less than 20% of normal. We are estimating we will lose an average of between $75,000 and $150,000 per month for the foreseeable future due to the low enrollment, increased costs, and possible future closures either because we have a suspected or confirmed COVID case or because of more general shut down restrictions. This only gives us a matter of only a few months to hang on with the hope that a combination of federal, state and county assistance before we will also have to close permanently.
While I strongly support the goal of the ECEI Recovery Fund, two changes could make it more impactful. First, the award amount for centers should be based on “licensed capacity” rather than number of “sites.” A single site program with a normal capacity to serve 200 children will likely be suffering twice the economic loss as a 5-site program with 20 kids at each site. The current formulation would grant only $75k to the 200 capacity child care program and $300k to the 100-capacity program with 5 sites. This seems inconsistent with the County’s public policy goals of trying to maintain as much child care capacity as possible.
Second, the current iteration of the ECEI Recovery Fund makes funds available to programs only for losses in April and May 2020, during the “Stay at Home Order.” Those programs that received some federal assistance through PPP or that laid off their staff had much lower losses over the past weeks than they will in the coming weeks as the County reopens and everyone needs to be back to work. The way it is currently structured, the ECEI Recovery Fund doesn’t help those programs that are currently trying to serve County families and doing so at considerable losses. Some programs may not even be able to attempt to reopen.
Therefore, the appropriation should be amended to include losses incurred in June, July, and August. Programs could be granted a maximum award amount after applying. The program would then submit evidence each month of their qualifying losses to be reimbursed up to the maximum of their award. This would cover those that are trying to continue to operate and give the fiscal support & incentive others may need to justify trying to reopen rather than giving up.
I thank you so much for your dedication to our County and to our families and for your consideration of my concerns. I hope that you will make the amendments I suggested and pass this appropriation.
Shaun M. Rose
President, Rock Spring Children’s Center