Access to childcare is critically important for employees returning to work

Blog post by Ashley Duckman

Ashley Duckman is the Vice President of Government Affairs at the Maryland Chamber. As the VP, she leads advocacy efforts on behalf of the 4,500+ members of the Maryland Chamber before the Maryland General Assembly and on the federal level. Duckman’s responsibilities include developing, leading, and executing the legislative strategy of the organization and maintaining positive working relationships with key elected officials and members of the Administration in order to build a better understanding of and appreciation for business issues.

 

During a press conference last week, Governor Hogan and Dr. Karen Salmon, Superintendent of the Maryland State Department of Education, announced that school systems may begin opening to small groups of students and staff of 10-15 individuals per room for summer instruction. Additionally, all licensed Maryland childcare providers may begin to reopen with a maximum limit of 15 individuals in one room at any time. As Maryland continues along Phase 2 of the governor’s Roadmap to Recovery plan with more non-essential businesses re-opening this Friday, June 19, while access to summer camps and childcare slots remain limited, many parents of young children are still left searching for options as they consider returning to work.

For weeks we have been working with our members in addressing the challenges they are facing in COVID-19 response and recovery, including developing plans to reopen and bring employees back to work. Additionally, as a mother of a young child, I can relate to the challenges faced by parents as they seek to balance work and home life, often making difficult decisions about what is best for their families.

While it is certainly welcome news that limited numbers of children are able to return to summer school instruction, and that more childcare slots will become available, the fact remains that childcare providers must continue to operate at reduced capacity which threatens their long-term financial stability and, as a result, our state’s economic recovery process.

To highlight some daunting statistics, nationally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation predicts that 4.5 million childcare slots will be lost permanently as the result of widespread closures, and the Center for American Progress estimates that Maryland will lose 53 percent of its childcare capacity, or more than 78,000 slots. Early nationwide surveys of the industry indicate that one-third did not expect to survive a shutdown of longer than one month, and half of childcare providers closed and may not return. Maryland cannot risk the potential long-term damage to its work force participation by losing licensed day cares and childcare as a result of this prolonged closure.

The Maryland State Department of Education plan does not envision a full re-opening of childcare until we enter Roadmap to Recovery Phase 3, the timeline for which remains unclear. Maryland’s county leaders have also been urging Dr. Salmon to address these issues, in response to which MSDE sent a letter on June 12th outlining that 58% of providers were operating.

Meanwhile, those family members such as grandparents or others who often serve in a pinch when childcare is needed have not been an option to most families since COVID-19 is particularly harmful to those over the age of 60.

This situation is leaving employees and employers in an extremely difficult position. The potential permanent loss of so many childcare slots statewide could hamper economic recovery for years to come.

We already have a model—thousands of sites have provided emergency childcare services during the pandemic. We can draw from those best practices, CDC guidelines, and lessons learned for a principled, complete re-opening of childcare facilities. Precautions like temperature checks, not allowing parents in facilities, questionnaires screening out employees and children who have been exposed or are symptomatic, social distancing, masks, and proper sanitization can all be utilized to minimize risk.

We recognize that this is a difficult issue as we seek to balance the health and safety of children and families with economic reopening. We hope that the governor and MSDE will continue to recognize the critical role of childcare in underpinning our economy and to move expeditiously toward greater access so that parents can return to work, businesses can reopen, and we can continue effectively on our road to recovery.

Read MSDE letter to county leaders


Click here to view up-to-the-minute COVID-19 resources on the Maryland Chamber of Commerce’s COVID-19 resources page.

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