Daycare dilemma poses challenges as parents return to work

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(ABC NEWS) Diana Limongi says she is heartbroken.

“So I am here at my daughter’s daycare, and that’s it. You know, they’re closing,” Limongi said as she packed up her 3-year-old daughter’s things from her now-closed child care center. “It’s all empty. A beautiful space and both my kids went here. So I’m really, really sad.”

Limongi and many working parents are learning firsthand a tough reality — the coronavirus pandemic is pushing the nation’s child care industry to the brink of collapse.

This is a top concern for millions of working parents. If you have to go back to the office and your child care center is closed, what do you do? Experts say this is a key piece to the puzzle to reopening the U.S. economy.

Nationwide nearly half of child care providers completely closed their facilities during the COVID-19 shutdowns, according to a survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Of those that stayed open, 85% are operating with less than half of their usual child enrollment.

The outlook for the industry is grim: an analysis by the Center for American Progress found that roughly half of U.S. child care capacity is at risk of disappearing.

“There is no way that the economy will be able to open completely without child care being fully supported and stable,” Jones-Taylor told ABC News.

“People talk about the airlines industry. They talk about restaurants. They talk about meat processing plants. But they don’t talk about all the people who go to work every day and need child care,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The $2 trillion CARES Act, a federal COVID-19 relief package, included nearly $60 billion for the airline industry, but just $3.5 billion was set aside for child care providers.

Murray told ABC News that is not good enough.

“Most of (child care providers) are saying we can’t survive, we can’t reopen, we can’t keep going without additional funding,” Murray said.

Calling herself the only former preschool teacher in the U.S. Senate, Murray introduced legislation to put $50 billion in federal funding toward the child care industry.

“I’m just saying to my fellow colleagues, just ask any friend, do you have kids? What is their biggest issue right now? And this is it,” she said.

Child care centers are expensive to operate. Experts say they are already working around very thin margins, some often taking in just enough to cover their operating costs. Most do not have a rainy day fund for a crisis like this. Now throw in the additional costs of the new normal in the coronavirus pandemic: personal protective equipment, sanitizer, deep cleanings.

Parents like Limongi, who now find themselves scrambling for child care, say the federal government needs to step up and help working families.

“We don’t have child care. We can’t work. It’s as simple as that,” she said.

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