The COVID-19 pandemic and New York’s response to limit the disease’s spread has upended normal life. Schools, restaurants, offices, places of worship, and non-essential businesses have shuttered their doors, and people are being urged to maintain distance from anyone outside their household. The staff of The Children’s Agenda are all working remotely, where we continue to advocate for policies and practices that lead to the success of children.
We are closely monitoring the status of the systems that serve children. This crisis makes it abundantly clear that the way in which services to children are funded affects the ability of providers to weather this storm and support families in need. In doing so, it also makes clear the direction that children’s services need to move in to survive and thrive once the current crisis is over.
While schools and recreation centers have closed, these public sector employees have retained their jobs during this crisis, and are critical supports to children in our community. Schools and recreation centers provide thousands of meals to children in our community every day and teachers have established remote learning routines with their students. These child-serving systems have shifted operations quickly to help families as best they can during this difficult period. Critical county-operated programs like child welfare and public assistance services also continue to operate and support families.
Similarly, non-profit organizations with government contracts and/or grant support from foundations can maintain or adapt operations during this period. Essential services to children and families continue. While the economic fall-out from this crisis could be quite severe, and maintaining funding for these types of programs will be critical in the future, they are not in immediate risk of closure.
By contrast, services that rely on a fee-for-service reimbursement model, like Early Intervention (EI) and much of Preschool Special Education, are at great risk right now. While New York State is allowing providers to offer EI services via telemedicine, it’s unclear what the uptake of those services will be. Preschool Special Education Related Services, which are delivered to children individually or in small groups in homes, child care settings, and Pre-K programs, are suspended during this period. As a result, many agencies that offer these services have switched staff to per-diem, or have furloughed them altogether. Our region and state already suffers from a dire shortage of skilled therapists and teachers for young children with special needs, and we fear that many workers won’t return to their jobs when this crisis abates.
While many child care programs remain open as a service to essential workers who need care for their children during this period, child care’s funding model makes it difficult for many providers to sustain operations. Child care is funded through a mix of private payments and government funding for lower-income families. Most parents are appropriately keeping their children at home with them, and while Monroe County received a waiver from New York State to continue to pay providers when children are absent, many parents (themselves displaced from work) are beginning to withdraw their children from care. Child care operates on incredibly slim margins, and relies on near full enrollment. As a result, many centers are closing despite being needed to provide care to the children of essential workers during this period. Many of these small businesses will need assistance to reopen at some point, and we hope that their staff are able to return to work.
These concerns are repeated in communities throughout the nation. Child Trends, a national research organization focused on children and youth, estimates that because of COVID-19 there are:
Governments at all levels are attempting to respond to the speed and depth of need in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to care for its victims.
The just-passed 3rd federal Coronavirus stimulus bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, provides some relief to children and families, particularly through the following provisions:
The second bill, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed on March 18, 2020 and included the following:
We are grateful to Senator Schumer for requiring the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to include $1.2B for NYS K-12 schools, $3.5B Child Care Development Block Grants, and over $375 billion for forgivable loans and grants to small businesses and non-profits so they can maintain their existing workforce, and help pay expenses during this crisis, like rent, a mortgage or utilities. Thank you to Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Morelle for supporting and passing this landmark legislation.
We look forward to an expected 4th Coronavirus bill to fill some important gaps, with provisions such as:
Advocates are also interested in including a child care increase and systems issues, Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) changes to give more money to the poorest, and help for the disabled and homeless.
As we look ahead to a more hopeful period when our community is able to resume normal life, we should re-examine how we provide crucial services to children and families at all times. The Children’s Agenda will continue to analyze the impact of this public health crisis on our community, will identify and promote ways to better help families, and will advocate for ways promote the health, education, and success of every child in our community.
The Children’s Agenda advocates for effective policies and drives evidenced-based solutions for the health, education and success of children. We are especially committed to children who are vulnerable because of poverty, racism, health inequities and trauma.