City daycare operators who offer critical services to front line workers during the pandemic are caught between wanting to help and facing their own difficult financial reality.
The daycare centers have government clearance to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic, and many provide critical childcare for essential workers — those in health care and first responders, as well as those who work in grocery stores and bodegas.
But small businesses, many of which already run on razor-thin margins, are struggling to make ends meet amid the crisis.
Lawmakers and officials are now calling on the city to step up its support of daycare centers.
“Child care workers are the unsung heroes of our city every day, and especially during this crisis as they look after children of health care professionals, first responders, and other frontline workers,” said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, in a joint letter with Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D–Manhattan) sent Wednesday to the city Administration for Children’s Services, which pays for public subsidies of qualifying students at private daycares.
City schools are shuttered until at least April 20, and preschools in the city‘s vast Universal Pre-K and 3-K programs were urged by officials to follow suit. But a sprawling network of private and partially-subsidized daycare operations — many of which run out of homes — are operating under different guidance, having been deemed essential businesses under state rules.
“I decided to stay open because I’m able to,” said one Bronx daycare operator who asked to remain anonymous. Her program is in a neighborhood densely packed with hospitals, and healthcare workers have called her worried about how to care for their young children.
“It broke my heart,” said the daycare operator. “My staff needed their jobs, and they were willing to come to work and help.”
But remaining open hasn’t been easy. The daycare’s enrollment has shrunk from 57 to 11. The program got a grant for small businesses with under five employees—but only under the condition that all employees continue working, which has driven up costs.
The daycare operator has struggled to find fresh foods she’s required to serve in grocery stores that have been picked clean.
“Fresh fruits and things have expired,” she said. “I’m not going to be able to get it in bulk if I get a big influx.”
Stringer and Espaillat say stories like the Bronx daycare operators are becoming common in the crisis, and they’ve asked ACS, which subsidizes many of the private programs, to step in.
The daycares often rely on a mix of parental tuition and public subsidies. Stringer and Espaillat urged ACS to temporarily continue paying subsidies even for students who aren’t attending, to ensure the programs don’t fall off a fiscal cliff. They also urged the agency to boost reimbursement rates in case parents can no longer pay their normal tuition rates.
The agency should also increase access to medical testing, cleaning supplies, and food for the workers, Stringer and Espaillat urged.
The city’s Education Department is providing its own childcare for kids below the age of five at its regional enrichment centers—temporary sites set up to look after the kids of essential workers.