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Grocery Store Workers Among Group Getting Child Care Funding During COVID-19 Pandemic

Trader Joe's
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Shoppers wait to enter Trader Joe's in Orange, Conn., as an employee gathers carts on April 20.

The state now has money to help some Connecticut residents with child care costs -- workers who continue to be public-facing in the age of COVID-19.

The state Office of Early Childhood is using federal dollars to set up CTCARES for Frontline Workers, a program benefiting employees considered to be front-line workers amid the pandemic.

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“We’ve heard there are front-line workers that are having trouble accessing child care,” OEC Commissioner Beth Bye said. “We put aside a $10 million fund to provide a $200-a-week subsidy for folks that are having trouble, and it all starts by calling 2-1-1 Child Care.”

There’s a maximum of $500 per week available to families with multiple children, though households making more than $99,000 a year -- a family income limit of up to 85% of state median income -- won’t qualify for aid through this program.

Included in this group of front-line workers for the first time are grocery store employees. They’ve sought access to key resources like child care, virus testing and free COVID-19 treatment since Gov. Ned Lamont deemed them essential workers in March.

“It seems as though Gov. Lamont and his staff have been trying to chip away each of the issues we have,” said Keri Hoehne, executive assistant to the president at Local 371 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents grocery store employees.

While the money satisfies a huge need -- doing so without discriminating against those who rely on care from adults outside of licensed program hours -- UFCW wants the state to grant these employees full-fledged front-line status.

Hoehne brought up personal protective equipment as another benefit available to those who carry the designation.

“The masks that our members have in our supermarkets right now have come directly from their employers,” Hoehne said. “I think there is some concern amongst our employers that the availability of those masks still could dry up, so still getting our members and our employers to the front of the line to purchase masks when they become available is really important to us.”

The union and grocer Stop & Shop teamed up Monday, calling on state leaders to act on the front-line workers designation. The alliance is noteworthy because in April of 2019, union members across New England engaged in a strike against the grocery chain.

“For the sake of workers, their families and our nation’s food supply, this action will provide grocery workers with the vital protections they deserve,” according to a joint statement emailed to Connecticut Public Radio that was signed by Stop & Shop President Gordon Reid and UFCW International President Marc Perrone.

Besides grocery store workers, the Office of Early Childhood recognizes the following as front-line workers eligible for this particular child care subsidy: health care workers, first responders, child care workers, employees at state facilities (Department of Correction workers, for example), home/group home care workers, along with people who serve any of the previously listed workers.

“Bank tellers were not included in our original list of front-line workers and then -- very quickly -- someone that works in a bank directly with the public called and said, ‘I didn’t get included,’” Bye said.

“We have the capacity to evaluate that and add them.”

In addition to the child care subsidy for front-line workers outlined above, OEC has created one for hospital workers and another that benefits child care programs and family day care homes serving essential workers.

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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