For the past five months many of Nevada’s child care providers have struggled to stay open amid a dramatic decrease in business.
About 30 percent of the state’s licensed childcare facilities had closed as of July 17, either temporarily or permanently, according to Clark and Washoe County licencing data.
Since March, at least 20 facilities have closed permanently.
“That’s a huge concern for the Children’s Advocacy Alliance,” said the group’s associate director, Jared Busker. “We know once a business closes the likelihood of it reopening is very slim.”
A survey from the Children’s Advocacy Alliance of 101 licensed child care providers in Nevada over a three-week period in June underscores the precarious state of the industry. About 82 percent experienced financial losses due to the pandemic ranging from $2,000 to $500,000.
The top 5 Covid impacts on child care providers listed by those who responded to the survey were low attendance, loss of revenue, difficulty obtaining basic supplies, increased cost of cleaning supplies, and laid off or furloughed employees.
Child care providers now face additional expenses along with social distancing precautions that will limit the number of children they can serve, significantly reducing their revenue. The combination could tip many over the edge.
Ivy Ward runs an 11-person child care center called Ivy Land in Fallon, Nevada, a small town in Churchill County with a population of about 8,500.
Ward was able to keep the center afloat after securing a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program and an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, but the months it took for funds to arrive wiped out a chunk of the financial padding the center had, Ward said.
The center, which has capacity for 40 children, is currently running at half of that in accordance with a directive set by Gov. Steve Sisolak to reduce any public gathering space by 50 percent occupancy allowed by the fire marshall.
“I don’t know how we would have been able to keep our staff if I hadn’t secured those loans,” Ward said. “When you’re running half your business you’re running nickel to dime. Everything makes a difference.”
“Without any kind of additional help or funding there’s no way we can operate in any kind of long term capacity.”
Economic hardship is only part of the troubles facing child care providers. Providers now face expensive and time-consuming safety protocols.
In July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines for child care centers that remain open, urging them to implement screening and social distancing strategies, intensify cleaning and modify drop off and pick up procedures.
Ward had to invest in additional technology to enable touch free drop offs and protective measures like a UV light sanitizer to protect children from possible infection. She also likened trying to enforce social distancing among young children to “herding kittens.”
“Trying to social distance two year olds is so hard, it takes extra man power to constantly manage it,” Ward said.
But Ward’s hardships are not unique in Nevada. Evelyn Knight is the owner of Zoo’n Around Preschool in Fernley Nevada, a city in Lyon County with a population of about 20,000.
“In my childcare center, before Covid hit, I was averaging 115 children a day. I dropped all the way down to 27 overnight. Financially, that’s devastating,” Knight said.
She also hosts a podcast called The Childcare Business Coach Podcast and keeps in touch with childcare providers throughout the United States. Knight said she’s found that childcare providers everywhere are facing similar challenges.
“This industry is very depressed, most owners are surviving week to week. We are seeing a massive amount of centers that aren’t going to make it back,” Knight said.
After securing a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program and receiving some financial support from the state through the CARES Act Knight has been able to keep her 22 employees on board but as expenses have grown and the number of children enrolled remains lower than usual it becomes more difficult to sustain her business.
Once classes start, Knight foresees greater challenges to childcare providers as schools in Nevada adopt a hybrid approach to teaching, instructing students online from home three days a week.
“The parents want us to take the children when they are doing the hybrid classes they’re asking us to get them in their Zoom class,” Knight said. “The problem my center is facing is that I have about 25 children that go to school. If I have 25 children the chances are I’m going to have 25 different curriculums to coordinate. We really can’t do it.”
“In my industry as a whole there’s just this collective anger over it. We are deemed essential but not essential. All of this is being placed on our shoulders and without support it’s definitely a bit overwhelming.”
‘Without us you don’t have workers’
The U.S. House of Representatives stepped in last Wednesday to try to rescue the nation’s child care system.
The chamber approved a pair of bills that backers say are needed to fully reopen the economy and shore up the child care industry in the longer term.
The bills now advance to the GOP-controlled Senate, where their fates are uncertain.
One of the measures would provide $50 billion in emergency funds to stabilize the child care sector and help providers safely reopen. The money would be administered through a federal block grant program and distributed to eligible child care centers, home-based providers and family child care homes.
The other would invest up to $10 billion per year through 2024 in the nation’s child care infrastructure, change federal tax policy to help workers access child care and help providers cover expenses, and more.
The stabilization fund bill called the Child Care Is Essential Act passed by a vote of 249-163. All three of Nevada’s Democrats supported it, while Republican Rep. Mark Amodei voted against it.
The Office of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said the bill is a key priority for the Senator.
“Access to quality, affordable child care is vital to families across the Silver State, especially as we continue our efforts to safely re-open our economy and get Nevadans back to work,” said Cortez Masto in a statement. “I’m proud to support legislation that will help struggling local daycares and other child care providers keep their doors open and give Nevada’s working parents peace of mind.”
If passed, Nevada could receive an estimated $461 million from the Childcare is Essential Act, according to an analysis by The Center for Law and Social Policy.
Proponents of the legislation like Ward and Knight say the government must save the child care industry in order to save the economy.
“Childcare is important to maintaining a healthy economy and helping to recover the economy because without us you don’t have workers and children have nowhere safe to stay,” Ward said.
Nevada is especially ill-prepared for any loss in child care facilities. In Nevada, an estimated 72 percent of children lived in a child care desert in 2018, according to a Center for American Progress study last December. Only Utah was worse, at 77 percent.
From 2008 to 2017, Nevada experienced a 52 percent decline in licensed family child care programs and a 5 percent decline in licensed centers. During the same period, Nevada’s overall licensed capacity declined by 4,891 slots or about 11 percent.
“Roughly two in three voters say it is essential or very important that Congress include support for child care in upcoming relief legislation,” said Katie Hamm, vice president of early child policy at the Center for American Progress. “As leaders negotiate a final deal in the coming weeks, they should heed the public’s will.”
Most households with children in Nevada have working parents, according to the Children’s Cabinet. For instance, for two-thirds of children under age 6 “all available parents” are in the workforce. In households with children ages 6 to 12, 70 percent both parents work.
“Early high quality childcare really provides a child with the schooling and education they need to have a strong start on their education and to be able to enter kindergarten ready to learn. For parents having stable and high quality child care allows them to work and allows them to be productive while working,” said the associate director of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, Jared Busker.
“Without childcare you’ll really see a breakdown in the overall economy.”
Allison Stevens in the States Newsroom Washington D.C. bureau contributed to this story.