Many Alaska child care providers find themselves on the brink during the COVID-19 pandemic
Many child care providers across Alaska are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic and need financial assistance to survive.
Kyle Gardner, the owner of Building Blocks Early Learning Center, says his business is operating at half its normal capacity. “We’re definitely not making ends meet,” Gardner said.
Parents tell Gardner they’re not sending their kids to child care due to fears of catching COVID-19 and financial pressures for families.
Another factor hurting providers is a lack of state, municipal or federal assistance.
Before the pandemic, the child care assistance program helped low-income Alaskan families. In early-April, the Department of Health and Social Services committed to paying child care providers for all children, regardless of their parents’ income, who attend programs across Alaska for three months. The state then found it had less money available and could only provide one month of help to providers.
“So far, $2.6 million of CARES funds have been used to supplement the $6.4 million of Administration for Children and Families funding,” Clinton Bennett, a spokesperson for DHSS, said by email. “DHSS is still assessing all of the various needs for CARES Act funding that are being requested throughout Alaska.”
The department advises that child care providers apply for federal coronavirus loans and state grants to make up for the shortfall.
Gardner received a $25,000 federal loan but it isn’t enough. He budgeted for that three months of assistance from the state and is two months behind on his rent. “I don't necessarily know how much longer we're going to be able to remain open,” he said.
There are 496 child care providers across Alaska, according to data from Thread, an organization that advocates for early childhood operators. Five child care providers have permanently closed their doors in the Municipality of Anchorage to date.
Jenni Pollard, the childhood development and marketing officer for Thread, says it’s a complicated situation for providers during the pandemic. There’s the need for social distancing, declining enrollment and the need to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
“All of the factors are challenging the survival of child care overall,” Pollard said.
Thread has started
that calls on $10 million a month to be given to Alaska child care providers to survive the pandemic.
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr has long advocated for expanding child care across Alaska but says the sector faces an emergency. “It’s more desperate than I’ve ever heard before,” Tarr said, explaining that many child care centers already operate on razor thin margins.
have also been cited as a reason parents are unable or unwilling to return to work during the pandemic.
Tarr says more assistance is needed now so providers can keep operating and be available when the Alaska economy returns to normal. “It can’t continue on for the next couple of months, they’re not financially able to withstand that,” she said.
At Hillcrest Children’s Center, there are roughly 20 kids coming everyday, around one-third of the center’s capacity. Christina Eubanks, the child care provider’s executive director, says the nonprofit will be down $140,000 in the next fiscal year.
The biggest concern is not having a ventilation system. Eubanks says the center has its windows open currently during the pandemic but couldn’t do that during the winter.
Conversations are ongoing with Anchorage Assembly members to see that part of the
is used for child care. The City and Borough of Juneau is cited as a model after recently approving the disbursement of
to local providers.
For Gardner, there either needs to be a big influx of new enrollments or new funds. That money is needed fast. “I don’t know that we can wait too much longer,” he said.