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Child care advocates say more funds needed from feds

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Child care providers and advocates say they need help from the federal government, with the COVID-19 crisis threatening some two-thirds of day care businesses in the state.

The crisis in the day care industry could outlast the pandemic, said Jackie Cowell of child care advocacy group Early Learning NH during a roundtable discussion among child-care advocates convened by U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster. Cowell said about two in three Early Learning NH’s members have said they will close within a year if nothing changes.

“I’ve just never seen the crisis we’re facing of how many programs they might lose,” Cowell said.

Jane Marquis, executive director of the Early Childhood Adventure program at Nashua’s Adult Learning Center, had to close on St. Patrick’s Day and furlough her staff.

“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said. “I don’t cry at work. However, I’ve never felt so helpless and hopeless.”

They program has received some aid, but Marquis said it’s not enough to cover the cost of a high-quality day care program with fewer children. She said between 30% and 40% of families could come back, to keep groups under the state-mandated size of two adults and eight children. With that ratio, she said, the program is making barely enough to stay afloat.

“We’re chugging along,” said Marianne Barter, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Day Care Services. Most of her staff are working again, though they too have been able to care for fewer children.

The day care typically serves children from low-income families and at-risk children, but Barter said the limits mean she can take fewer of those kids.

Kuster held the round table to boost support for two bills she’s worked on that could send $50 billion to child care providers, and provide a tax credit to help families pay for day care.

“I don’t know how we’ll do it without more support from the federal government,” said Christina LaChance of the University of New Hampshire’s Council for Thriving Children.

Lachance said families needed more support from child care centers, like help with remote learning, but the drop in the number of child care seats available in New Hampshire meant families might be settling for lower-quality programs.

Federal investment could help make child care better, Lachance said, without placing all the burden on the parents of young children.

“It’s a harrowing time” for parents, said Christina D’Allessandro of parent group Moms Rising and a mother of two. “You’re being asked to be a doctor, to be an epidemiologist, to digest and understand public health information and make decisions for your family.”

She said mothers in particular have been shouldering the burden of child care, and some feel forced to leave their careers to care for their children.

“We had a system that wasn’t working before. We introduce a tragedy of epic proportions,” D’Allesandro said. “It’s really about re-thinking about how we care.”

Kuster said she has heard from working women who experience the child care conundrum as a personal problem. Kuster said she hoped people would start thinking of child care as a societal problem, the same way school is.