Portia Powell, a single mom of three and an office manager at a mental health facility in North Carolina, was challenged with finding child care when the outbreak caused her two sons to be released from school for three weeks.
“I was going to have to bring them to work with me but that could’ve exposed them to the virus and eventually, I don’t believe my employer would’ve allowed it for long,” Powell said. “I weighed my options and ultimately had to let them stay with my parents. They obviously can’t watch them everyday for 3 weeks because they work also, but when the time comes for me to figure something else out, I’ll just have to figure it out.”
Just over a week into the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, families already foresee the financial, emotional, and mental burden this outbreak is causing.
From restaurants allowing drive-in and delivery-only options, to country-wide school closings, to employers uncertain of their workers’ future, this unimaginable virus has impacted the lives of many.
As the numbers of cases grow daily, across the country, more than 41 million students in at least 39 states are missing classes because of the Covid-19 outbreak. In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Monday that the closure of all public K-12 schools has been extended until May 15. Some schools are closing for the rest of the school year.
These sudden changes have left parents frustrated, confused and overwhelmed with the task of finding child care if they have to definitely go to work.
Even with government assistance, Powell says that child care for her 3-year-old daughter is $550 a month. The after school program her 10-year-old son attends is an additional $500 a month. After spending 35% of her monthly salary on rent, Powell spends an additional 31% of that on child care. She isn’t afforded the luxury of having a financial cushion for a health crisis.
Although many can agree that the shut down of schools was the best decision, for low and middle-income families, finding child care is no easy task when they still have to work.
Some parents are fortunate to work from home amid this crisis, yet many others are still expected to go into work and thus, are faced with the burden of paying additional child care expenses. Think of the pharmacists, retail workers in grocery stores, janitors keeping hospitals clean, and people like Powell who is working in a health facility. Where are their kids going to go to be taken care of while they perform their essential jobs?
While some child care facilities took school closings as a warning to also close their doors, others are finding themselves with an influx of attendees. However, even if families pull their children out of child care facilities due to coronavirus concerns, many have to continue their payments to preserve their child’s spot. Jamakah Webb, a licensed cosmetologist in North Carolina, received a letter from her child’s daycare stating this exact thing. In the letter it read, “We will still have payroll, utilities, and other expenses to pay for the center. We do not see any way around this.” Although the facility is offering flexible payments, they’ve made it clear that the balance must be paid in full once the outbreak subsides.
Officials haven’t specifically called child care facilities to close, but the urge to minimize social gatherings to 10 people or less puts into question if facilities will be over capacity.
The coronavirus’ effect on employers and employees has been overwhelming. In fact, some companies are laying off workers to combat financial deficits, while others are requiring their employees to take sick leave without pay. This prevents workers from being able to provide for their families and cover the necessity of having access to high quality child care.
Some lawmakers are proposing universal basic income as a solution for working individuals and families facing financial hardship during the outbreak. For instance, Mitt Romney proposed on Monday, sending all adults a one-time $1,000 check to help them meet their financial obligations. Democrats, on the other hand, are calling on the federal government to send non-taxable payments of $1,000 to adults consistently until the outbreak subsides. Although these funds could be used as each family sees fit, it would undoubtedly benefit families in need of child care.
Child care is a critical support for working parents, their families, and businesses alike. As long as families continue to work, children need safe places to go. Unemployed and low-income families need assistance to be able to provide basic necessities.
Unlike no other health crisis in recent times, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed our nation’s lack of resources, support, and care to those most vulnerable. This lack of national structure on child care affects our daily lives and it’s imperative that our country improve its pandemic preparation.