By Kristine Harrington
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – The child care industry is suffering a growing economic crisis fueled by COVID-19 safety restrictions, capacity reductions, uncertainty over schools reopening and mass layoffs of parents who typically require child care.
Nearly half of all Arizona child care centers are closed because of the pandemic. And some might never reopen.
A child care advocacy group is calling on the state and federal government to help, saying our economy relies on parents returning to work with reliable child care. Whiz Kids has managed to keep all three Valley locations open.
“I’m in an empty classroom right now as you can see,” said Martha Picciao, founder and owner of Whiz Kids.
While it hasn’t been easy, they have managed to keep all three Valley locations open.
“Families need to go to work and we’re seeing it more and more where even our families that are working from home, you know, they can only do so much,” Picciao said.
According to the Arizona Association for the Education of Young Children, the pandemic has forced nearly half of Arizona’s child care centers to close indefinitely.
“Over the course of just a few months with the pandemic, we’ve lost tens of thousands of slots for families to be able to access child care,” said executive director Eric Bucher. “If providers don’t have support and investments now, how can they reopen when the time comes to serve families and their communities?”
Arizona went from having approximately 171,000 child care slots to just 76,000. The fear is, without state and federal support, there won’t be enough spots for families post-pandemic when parents return to work.
“It is not just child care, it is early education. We are building brains. We’re building a foundation for lifelong learning,” said Picciao. “I can tell you that we will not be able to survive if there is not enough funding and backing for us.”
The U.S. House of Representatives has proposed a $50 billion relief package to help fund child care centers during this COVID-19 crisis. The state of Arizona also millions of dollars from the CARES Act that could be made available through grants but there’s no word on when that might happen. Supporters of the relief aid say that funding is critical for Arizona child care centers and the Arizona economy.
“Call the governor’s office. Call our senators and ask for both state and federal investments in early childhood and child care,” said Bucher. “It’s the right thing to do for not only all of us as Arizonans but for our communities, for equity and for the economy.”