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Child care centers say they need federal funds to help through COVID-related staff shortages

Child care providers told state officials on Monday that federal aid is necessary to address ongoing staff shortages and nearly 100 classroom closures due to COVID-19. The shortage comes as the state’s coronavirus daily test positivity rate hovered just above 23% on Monday, with confirmed community spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant.

In 2020, Connecticut data shows that of the 1,410 licensed child care centers and 1,886 licensed family child care homes, 27 closed due to COVID-19. That is less than 1% of the state’s licensed child care centers that remain closed, but the recent surge of cases is keeping child care workers at home. In some cases, that has led to sudden closures, leaving some children with nowhere to go.

Child care providers said the way centers are funded can’t address the need for quality care, which was already vulnerable before the pandemic.

“It’s exceedingly vulnerable in the pandemic, and it will continue post-pandemic if we don’t figure out how to get this right,” said David Morgan, the president and CEO of TEAM, a nonprofit human services agency that serves the Naugatuck River Valley.

Morgan spoke at a news conference Monday morning with government officials and child care providers. He said providers are losing workers for various reasons, from COVID-19 quarantine to finding positions with better pay.

Lamont said early pandemic relief funds from the federal government helped raise pay for child care workers, train more day care providers and helped cover tuition. He said the state is also piloting a workforce bonus program for qualified workers with higher academic degrees.

Monette Ferguson, executive director of the Alliance for Community Empowerment, a Bridgeport-based nonprofit agency that fights poverty, said child care classes have been open and closed due to COVID exposure. She said there’s only so much they can do to retain workers with the funding they have.

“We’re constantly looking for innovative ways to attract folks to the workforce, but there’s no simple, easy solution,” Ferguson said.

Beth Bye, commissioner of the state’s Office of Early Childhood, said the U.S. Senate needs to pass the Build Back Better Act, which includes help for child care providers and aid to make child care more affordable.

“Connecticut would get an additional $168 million in the first year and that would increase over time and would allow us to design and build a system that pays a fair wage and track the workforce,” said Bye. “And assure that families don’t pay more than 7% of their income on child care.”

Bye confirmed that about 100 classrooms are shuttered due to staffing issues.

Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.

Catherine is the Host of Connecticut Public’s morning talk show and podcast, Where We Live. Catherine and the WWL team focus on going beyond the headlines to bring in meaningful conversations that put Connecticut in context.

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