As President Donald Trump shows an absolute lack of expertise – and empathy – to direct the nation through this health crisis, states are doing what they can to figure out how to protect its residents from this global pandemic.
States such as New Mexico are leading the way to keep child care centers open.
Although schools will remain closed for the rest of the school-year, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham recognizes that essential workers still need child care. That’s why child care centers that chose to close for three weeks are being asked to open back up, starting April 6 to “ensure that child care services are available to first responders, health care professionals and other essential workers in the fight against COVID-19 – with no income eligibility threshold,” as stated in a news release by the Governor’s office.
This mandate to reopen, however, concerns many providers.
Carmella Salinas, the head teacher and an early childhood education center in Albuquerque, has severe asthma. She says Governor Lujan Grisham sent all child care centers an email that explained that the state of New Mexico would pay for the treatment of any child care worker who contracted Covid-19.
“When I got the email I actually cried,” Salinas says. “They’re expecting child care workers to get Covid-19. What if you die?”
Last week, President Trump signed a stimulus bill into law that contains important relief for working families that low-income people, community organizers and many Congressional Members fought hard for. But there is more to do. Millions more people have been left out and Congress must do the work to ensure everyone has the basic support to survive without work during this pandemic and access to healthcare and essential help for caregiving duties, including child care.
Salinas will have to confront – with her life – the catastrophic failure of our national government to protect the people.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus an unheralded group of essential workers—child care providers. Without child care, America can not keep working. While parents who are nurses, grocery store workers, delivery truck drivers, and farmers help to keep us healthy and fed, it is early childhood educators who are caring for these workers’ children—even as they risk infection themselves.
Salinas agrees that child care is an essential service. When she chose to close her center for two weeks, one single mom who relies on Salina’s child care so she can manage two restaurants had to bring her daughter to work with her.
Child care is part of the economic infrastructure in the United States that keeps it running. As Salinas puts it, “Childcare keeps America working.”
The risk to child care providers is substantial, and especially to high risk people like Salinas who says she is hospitalized at least once a year due to the severity of her asthma. Still, her daycare is at the forefront of the pandemic and will reopen today April 6 to care for children of essential workers.
New Mexico has ranked last in child wellbeing for many years and along with Arizona, the state has had the lowest high school graduation rate in the United States. But last year, when Lujan Grisham took office, she made it clear that education—including early childhood education—was her number one priority. Following the 2019 state legislative session, Lujan Grisham established a new department dedicated to early childhood education and care aimed at providing ongoing funding and resources to a range of programs from prenatal care through pre-K education.
Salinas joined the grassroots group OLÉ and other working families advocacy groups during the 2019 legislative session to help lobby for the new childhood education department. Salinas says the department will oversee a diverse range of programs with the goal of providing high quality child care across the state and helping all childcare providers earn better wages and benefits.
Having been an early childhood educator for 18 years, Salinas also hopes the governor’s efforts bring more respect to her profession, particularly during the pandemic. “It’s such a meaningful job to have and the women doing this job deserve respect,” she says. “They deserve a livable wage because we honestly care about our community.”
The scale of the childcare crisis in New Mexico has only been further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and a federal government that continues to attack working families with cuts on safety net programs such as food stamps.
At first, when schools closed in New Mexico on March 16, child care centers were given the option to remain open or closed for the first three weeks of closures. While many centers were encouraged to remain open to provide care for children of other essential workers, Governor Lujan Grisham ensured all childcare centers continued to receive state subsidized payments for the parents who rely on this funding.
The state has also asked child care centers about their supply needs. Providers who fill out the form receive care packages that will enable them to continue to operate with all the food and cleaning supplies they might not be able to find otherwise on the emptied store shelves. Monetary incentives for providers will be sent out by April 10.
Valeria Holloway owns and operates a child care out of her own home in Las Cruces and says she’s been fortunate to be able to stay open. Although she’s at half her normal capacity, the state support will help her remain afloat, and the parents of the kids who continue to show up are all first responders.
Still, Holloway worries about friends who also run their own child care centers but no longer have kids showing up. Even with state support, they aren’t sure how they will cover their bills by the time their checks arrive.
With a President who doesn’t act for the benefit of all people regardless of their income or where they live, Holloway says that New Mexico is looking at childhood educators to do the impossible when even schools are remaining closed. “Maybe we can get through this and they’ll say, ‘who was still open and who was still trying to serve people?’” She says. “It was the child care providers.”