Marin County child care providers are struggling to remain financially viable under new state and county guidelines designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“What we’re hearing from the programs is that they won’t be able to run at the same capacity as they were. It could be devastating to the child care industry,” said Aideen Gaidmore, executive director of the Marin Child Care Council. “For our economy to come back and to reopen we need child care.”
The California Health and Human Services Agency, which licenses child care providers in the state, requires providers to follow either state or county guidelines for operation during the pandemic, whichever is stricter. That means that while Marin County’s regulations allow 12 kids for every one adult, child care providers must abide by the state mandate, which is one adult for every 10 kids.
The guidelines specify that child care facilities that have more than one group of 10 children must house the groups in separate rooms or spaces that cannot be accessed by children or adults outside the stable group. Groups are not to mix.
These guidelines further reduce the number of possible students each child care provider may accommodate and the revenue the providers can generate. The number of teachers required is not being reduced proportionally, however, because part-time teachers that used to provide breaks for multiple full-time teachers now can’t interact with more than one group.
“A lot of our bigger programs are looking at huge budget deficits,” Gaidmore said. “What are parents going to do if there is no supply?”
Cheryl Paddack, executive director of the Novato Youth Center, said her organization’s child care operation could lose $224,000 in revenue because of the new requirements.
“This is a crisis for working families,” Paddack said. “They need child care to be in the workforce.”
The youth center reopened its child care operation earlier this month with 70 kids, half the number it was caring for before the “shelter in place” order went into effect. Because it has seven rooms, that is the maximum number it will be able to serve.
The youth center has closed its toddler and pre-toddler classrooms and laid off about four people. Paddack said, however, that most of the staff has been retained more than one teacher per group is required to prevent co-mingling between cohort groups.
Monique Liebhard said Community Action Marin, which operated or oversaw child care for about 1,000 Marin kids prior to the pandemic, also anticipates having to cut the number of children it is serving by 50%.
“This is devastating for our program” Liebhard said, “and for working parents who rely on us. We can’t serve them the same way.”
“Even though we’re serving half the class size,” Liebhard said, “we still need to retain the same staffing for each classroom because each classroom has to be its own cohort; you can’t have a floater teacher who comes in to give another teacher a break. This is going to be very expensive to operate.”
Liebhard said that because of the new guidelines her organization is having to end its after-school program for children in kindergarten through the third grade.
Susan Gilmore, president and CEO of the nonprofit North Bay Children’s Center in Novato, said her organization is facing similar challenges.
“What we’ve penciled out is that under the new regulations once we open up all our existing locations we’re only going to be able to serve 46% of our typical capacity,” Gilmore said, “but it is going to require 113% of our typical staffing.”
The number of children served is expected to drop from 481 to 220.
The child care programs operated by Community Action Marin and North Bay Children’s Center receive state funding. Gaidmore, however, said state funding for child care has traditionally fallen short of covering the true cost.
Gilmore said, “If parents had to pay the true cost for this care, they’d have to pay at least $2,300 a month for childcare, which is more than double what the regional rates are.”
In the May revision of his proposed state budget, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed cutting child care funding by 10%. The Assembly and state Senate, however, rejected that idea and have proposed providing state-funded child care programs with the same amount of funding they were receiving prior to COVID-19, despite reductions in the number of children they serve due to the new safety guidelines. The governor and the Legislature are continuing to negotiate over what the final 2020-21 budget will look like.
Gilmore said even if her organization’s state funding remains constant, it still faces the challenge of raising $750,000 to fill the gap between the true cost of child care and the state’s reimbursement rate.
She said that is looking increasingly difficult because of the pandemic. She said several foundations have put their grant-making on hold or shifted their focus. The youth center is also concerned about its prospects for raising the $200,000 it typically raises with its annual fundraiser when it replaces that live event with an online version.
Child care providers that don’t receive state funding, such as the Santa Margarita Children’s Center in San Rafael, must find other ways of compensating for the lost revenue. Arleen Uryu, the school’s founder and director, said she has had to reduce the number of children her center is serving from 55 to 30.
“It has been a huge challenge to figure out how to do that,” Uryu said.To eliminate the expense of part-time employees, Uryu has reduced the numbers of hours her center operates from 10.5 to eight.
“If you need to go to work and you have a full-time job, how are you going to do the dropoff and pickup for your kids?” said Amarantha Silva, who is trying to decide whether to place her 3-month-old daughter and first-grade son at the Santa Margarita Children’s Center.
Silva was a full-time student at College of Marin when the pandemic hit, and her husband was furloughed from his construction job. He is still waiting to be called back.
“I’m trying to get a job so I can help with the bills,” Silva said. “If we don’t have child care, how are we going to go back to work? If we can’t go back to work, how are we going to pay the rent and the other bills? It’s like a circle.”