Helping with child care: Perry, Bell bill provides grants

Helping with child care: Perry, Bell bill provides grants
Goldsboro News-Argus
Sept. 2, 2020

Kindergarten student Reece Kelly uses his finger to draw a large square in the air as he listens to teacher Beth Rose describe the shape.

Reece and the other kindergartners and first-graders around are among the many Wayne and Duplin county children who need care while their parents work.

But finding child care is tough because of the COVID-19 pandemic so Reece and his fellow students are being cared for by a community-based organization at Mrs. Robin’s Academy of Dance and Gymnastics in Mount Olive.

To help lessen the struggle of finding day care, state Sen. Jim Perry of Kinston and House Majority Leader John Bell of Goldsboro have crafted legislation to provide $35 million for child care center operational grants; $20 million for community-based organizations that provide day care, such as the one at the Mount Olive site; and $8 million in child care subsidies for low-income parents.

It would provide some temporary regulatory relief for day care centers, as well.

Legislators are expected to wrap up the session by Thursday midnight, but a vote on the bill could come as early as Wednesday.

That is welcome news because working parents need help, said Carrie Shields of Mount Olive, who has a child at the Mount Olive site.

“As a single parent, the strain and stress have been challenging during this pandemic,” she said. “I work full time and do not have the option to telework or work from home. Having child care that fits my child’s learning needs is imperative, not only for my child, but for me as the parent.

“We are asking for help in a crisis situation. Our community-based organizations are stepping up to support our families. These facilities are places parents trust — they offer safe, nurturing, educational, emotional and a healthy environment for our children. We are asking. We are begging for assistance. This legislation offers us that help we need.”

How schools are reopening and the different work restrictions because of COVID-19 have made finding child care tough, Perry said.

“We first heard about some church day care situations that is not really a licensed day care, but where folks take their kids to the church,” Perry said.

In some instances, that is all people have got and what the state has said is that they cannot keep those kids during school hours, they can’t do this and they can’t do that, Perry said.

And that has left some parents in a lurch, he said.

“Especially in our rural areas we don’t have the options other people have and the last thing we need to do, these (Gov. Roy Cooper’s) executive orders, regardless of how somebody feels about them — they made life tough for folks,” Perry said.

“We are not going to tell somebody who had child care on Friday that Monday they don’t have it any more. What are they supposed to do? How are they supposed to work? How are they supposed to have their child taken care of?”

In addition, due to the unpredictable nature of how long remote learning will last and how long parents will continue to telework because of economic restrictions, it’s paramount that the legislature extends more temporary options, he said.

“This is why we are allowing community-based organizations, such as YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs and even local dance studios to step up and offer a safe environment for school-aged kids to complete their virtual learning,” Perry said.

Groups of parents have gotten together to provide child care at different facilities helping folks with their children during the day, Perry said.

Mrs. Robin’s Academy of Dance and Gymnastics is a good example, he said.

“They have some retired teachers that they have hired,” Perry said. “Well, the state has said you really can’t do that or you have hours limitations. That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard in my life we’re telling these folks. Parents made their choice to freely take their kids there and they feel they are being cared for and getting what they need.

“And during this pandemic we need to temporarily allow that and not put these restrictions on them so that they can’t do it. I am not taking child care from those folks. So, we have proposed to temporarily relieve those restrictions and any group of folks recognized as a community-based organization like that.”

Those centers will be required to follow COVID sanitation guidelines just like anybody else and will have to register just as licensed child care centers have to, he said.

“But we’re going to make it so those parents can use that care if they so choose,” Perry said. “We stuck $20 million in there to help with the cost because everybody has all of these new expenses they hadn’t counted on. We are going to provide some grant funding to those community-based organizations.

“I trust the parents of Wayne and Lenoir county to make the best decisions for their family. The temporary changes are a direct result of feedback from our constituents.”

One of those constituents is Janet Holloman, an educator, and working mom.

“(Gov.) Roy Cooper asked our villages’ to step up, ‘dig deeper,’ and help support our children in need of somewhere safe to go while their parents work,” Holloman wrote in an email to Perry. “So many facilities have done just that — our churches and recreational buildings have members with huge hearts who have stepped up to the plate — yet they have been denied the opportunity to help because they cannot operate on full day schedules without a license or partnership in education.

“… North Carolina — you asked our communities to step up, but then you blocked our villages who were ready to tackle the impossible. I am asking you as an educator. I am asking you as a working parent. Allow these facilities to step up and help us with our children … Extend your hand and help those families who are needing it the most right now. We need our villages.”

Meredith Cox, a school psychologist in Wayne County, wrote to Perry on the need for a temporary change.

“These laws were created with good intentions and designed to protect the well-being of children,” she wrote. “Yet these very laws were not created and enacted during a pandemic or with pandemic conditions in mind. These laws that were designed with the well-being of children in mind, are the very same laws that are currently causing great harm to our children.”

With day cares full, if alternate means of child care are not allowed, many parents will be left with no choice but to leave their children home alone when they are not developmentally ready for such a challenge, she said.

These laws put grandparents, the very population we are trying most to protect during this pandemic, in the position of day care provider to grandchildren, Cox wrote.

“There are many parents that rely on virtual learning centers in order to be able to complete their essential work, including myself and many of my fellow educators,” she wrote.

CHILD CARE SUBSIDYTo afford working class parents the opportunity to take advantage of these new options, the General Assembly is providing $8 million to help low-income families offset child care costs, Bell said.

“This situation has been very hard on our constituents,” Bell said. “This temporary legislation is good, common sense relief for working families.

“I have spoken to many single parents who are at their wits end regarding child care. We are going to help them.”

Single moms, single dads, the people who can least afford time off are the ones being most affected, Perry said.

“We also put $8 million in there to help out folks who have income needs for child care and just can’t afford it,” he said. “So, there is an $8 million grant program to helping working-class parents to help offset child care costs.”

Parents will be able to apply for the need-based grants, Perry said. Details on how that will work are still being hammered out, he said.

CHILD CARE CENTERSChild care centers continue to face increased costs while operating at less than half of their revenues, in many cases, Perry said.

In fact, the average operating capacity for child care centers in the state is just 43%, since many parents who are working from home are choosing not to pay for child care during this time, he said.

Many child care centers have opened their doors to help school-aged kids engage in their virtual learning and while they have taken on this responsibility, they have also been crushed with additional rules, restrictions and staffing requirements, Perry said.

Because child care centers are taking on this additional responsibility the state owes it to them to provide additional operational grants to sustain themselves, he said.

These grants will be flexible, so these centers can use them to address their greatest needs at an individual level, such as speeding up background checks, Perry said.

Also, some are being crushed by new rules and restrictions that are causing employees to work longer shifts that in turn cause get into overtime quickly costing child care center more, he said.