The majority of children in New Hampshire have been at home since March, when schools closed and many parents were sent to work from home. Now as the economy is opening, childcare businesses are struggling to get back on track.
“Financially we are concerned," said Donna Hajjar, owner of The Learning Path in Salem and Atkinson. "I’ve had my business 21 years, always profitable to the point where we can pay our bills … giving our staff annual raises and doing upkeep for the buildings.”
Hajjar and other child care providers met with U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., over Zoom to discuss their worries and issues with their reopening.
Hajjar shared concerns with how her business endures after the pandemic ends because money she would typically budget for upkeep is going towards just staying open, she said. Other childcare providers agreed, adding that they were worried about childcare centers being able to stay in business without placing too much of a financial burden on families.
The demand for childcare is growing while there's more limited space because of social distancing requirements.
“Every piece (of the economy) that opens up, it brings more children back," said Mariana O'Connor, director of Elliot Child Care Center in Manchester.
Her childcare center had been open through the pandemic, and as people are being brought back from remote work she's seeing an increase in the need for childcare. Soon there won't be enough space to accept more children with the current restrictions, she said.
“We can’t reopen our economy at all if we don’t have strong early learning services for our kids and families," Hassan said while listening.
Hassan is working on legislation to help fund childcare, and she wanted to make sure she knew what childcare centers needed to help them return. A few child care providers highlighted the Payment Protection Program and childcare grants from the first financial package as helping them make it through.
Hassan and fellow New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen are working with senate colleagues on the "Childcare is Essential Act" that would provide grants to childcare facilities to help stabilize them financially. Money could be used for day-to-day operations and to address the additional costs associated with operating during the pandemic.
“Our economy simply cannot recover if parents cannot go back to work because they do not have access to safe, reliable child care,” Hassan said. “Our bill makes significant investments in child care centers that have not only been hit hard financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, but now also face added challenges in instituting new health and safety policies to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19. Childcare centers in New Hampshire and across the country desperately need this relief, and I hope our colleagues will join us in moving forward this critical legislation.”