LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Childcare centers in Kentucky are in crisis mode.
Around 45 percent of childcare centers in Kentucky could be forced to close if the next coronavirus relief bill does not contain dedicated funding.
“If something is not done relatively soon almost half of Kentucky childcare centers will close,” said Ashli Watts, President, and CEO of Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “I know that seems really drastic but right now many are just not able to reopen because of different safety protocols and we all probably know that childcare centers, do not operate on a large margin of profit.”
Childcare centers were forced to close their doors in Kentucky for months and while they were able to reopen on June 15, it was with limited capacity making sure class sizes are kept under ten in separate areas —this has caused centers to have more staff. To ensure the safety of the staff and children childcare centers are also required to purchase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
"We've divided classrooms, we've added staff, we're at about 60 percent enrollment,” said Patti Craig, VP of Kentucky Programs for Learning Grove. “So that financial model obviously makes it difficult for us.”
After months of no revenue and increased operating costs upon reopening, Learning Grove, based in Northern Kentucky, has concerns about sustainability if they do not receive support in the next coronavirus relief bill.
“The fear is that as we go forward, and we want to be open for parents going back to work and kids going back to school but we can't lose money indefinitely. The numbers of childcare centers that have not reopened are staggering” said Mark Hammons, Director of Advocacy at Learning Grove. “I would venture to say that all of us, all childcare providers across the country are desperate to get some type of financial support.”
It's a fear for childcare providers throughout the country.
"Funding for the childcare industry has been inadequate,” said Radha Mohan, executive director of the Early Care & Education Consortium. “As the economy continues to safely re-open, financial assistance for the financially decimated childcare industry is critical. Parents cannot go back to work if they do not have a safe, affordable place to bring their children.”
Business leaders in the community agree that the economy cannot reopen if childcare centers are closed.
“Childcare is a really big part of our workforce and it's something that you never want to have to choose between a being able to work or being able to take care of your child,” Watts said. "We're fortunate to have quality childcare here in Kentucky, but unfortunately in some parts of the state, there's just not enough. And so it really is a very critical element of how our economy gets up and running here in Kentucky."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, seems supportive of providing relief to childcare centers as they work to craft the next relief bill.
"I’ve said we will start with the facts and develop real, targeted solutions on the subjects that matter most to American families. Well, it turns out that means three things: Kids. Jobs. And healthcare,” he said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “Surveys show the American people’s top priorities for reopening are childcare and K-12 schools.”
The backing of McConnell makes those in the childcare industry hopeful.
"I'm hopeful as we are going into these next couple of weeks as they negotiate the next relief package that will get that support,” said Hammons. "Because the economy won't reopen unless childcare reopens and childcare won't reopen without that support it can’t.”
Kentucky’s junior senator however does not have the same support for sending federal support to childcare centers — or schools. Sen. Rand Paul expressed concerns over another massive federal relief package tweeting, "The majority of Republicans are now no different than socialist Democrats when it comes to debt," before turning his attention to childcare.
Childcare providers however maintain they simply won’t be able to sustain if they do get aid.
“I have never seen a challenge anywhere as near as grave as this,” said Hammons. “ This is really critical, this really could destroy childcare in America if we don't get the kind of support to allow us to stay open and to cover the losses that we're all going to face.”
According to the Childcare Council of Kentucky, the commonwealth has lost 2,000 childcare centers from 2013-2019.