Child care providers in Santa Clara County are struggling to stay afloat as their costs have burgeoned during the coronavirus pandemic.
“These child care businesses could go away if we don’t figure out a way to get them funding as soon as possible. We need these small businesses to thrive,” Supervisor Cindy Chavez told San José Spotlight.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a proposal to devote more than $2.5 million for child care programs in the county, drawing funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The proposal authored by Chavez and Supervisor Susan Ellenberg will help child care programs remain in business and expand their hours of operation for up to 10 weeks.
“A lot of child care homes have shut their doors in response to COVID-19. And a lot of them are struggling to reopen,” said Dalenna Ruelas Hughes, director of early learning at FIRST 5 Santa Clara County, an organization supporting child development.
Meanwhile, child care providers operating during the crisis are also under undue financial constraints, she added. Purchasing disinfectants and temperature monitors has added to their expenses. And the state has mandated reduced class sizes due to COVID-19.
Even before the public health crisis, Hughes said child care providers in the Greater Bay Area operated at “razor thin margins,” making monthly profits of about $2,000. Now, the pandemic has pushed them over the brink.
While child care providers can once again serve all families under the county’s updated health order, Hughes said families will struggle to pay for child care programs as the pandemic has left many financially strained. The average cost of child care for children ages 0 to 5 in the county is $2,000 a month, according to Hughes.
“Almost all of our families are behind on their bills. They’re playing catch up,” Hughes said.
But there’s another looming financial hurdle: Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed to reduce child care subsidies by 10 percent in a bid to balance the state budget decimated by the pandemic.
While the state has granted the county flexibility in using child care funds and 100 vouchers to subsidize essential workers’ access to child care programs through June, Ellenberg said it won’t be enough to support the most vulnerable children and working families. Neither would it generate the amount of revenue needed for child care providers to stay in business.
FIRST 5 Santa Clara County began distributing supplies such as food, diapers and baby formulas during the pandemic. It has also handed out educational materials like books, markers and Play-Doh for families. And the county is committing more than $850,000 to expand child care services for low-income households and at-risk children such as foster children, those who are abused or homeless, and children with disabilities.
“The questions we must ask ourselves are: Who will care for our county’s children when our child care facilities are closed because they could not secure the financial support to operate?” Ellenberg said in a statement. “How will families re-enter the workforce without access to child care? As we prepare to reopen our county this summer, it is vital that we establish a plan with actionable items that champion families being able to successfully go back to work during the COVID -19 health crisis.”
COVID-19 Financial Assistance
The board unanimously passed a proposal by Chavez and Supervisor Dave Cortese to provide $5 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, supporting the COVID-19 Financial Assistance Relief Program with more than $25 million already raised from corporations, foundations, local governments and private donors.
When the COVID-19 Financial Assistance Relief Program was launched in March, San Jose-based nonprofit Destination:Home reached the cap of 4,500 applications within three days.
“We saw thousands and thousands more names added to the interest list, and we heard about the suffering that people were experiencing, especially extremely low-income households that didn’t have access to stimulus benefits, and were already living paycheck to paycheck,” said Ray Bramson, chief impact officer of Destination:Home.
The nonprofit began accepting its second round of applications last month, granting $1,000 of assistance for extremely low-income households who are eligible for the program.
“Having the Board of Supervisors step up with the leadership of Supervisor Chavez, Supervisor Cortese and the rest of the board was fantastic because that money is going to get into the hands of people who desperately need support,” Bramson said.
Expanding CalFresh Benefits
During the pandemic, scores of households are seeking food assistance for the first time. The county has received a surge in applications for the food-assistance program CalFresh. Now, the board has unanimously approved a proposal by Chavez to explore ways of expanding CalFresh benefits.
“CalFresh is such an important support for people who are food insecure, and the federal government has provided maximum benefits for families through May,” said Tracy Weatherby, vice president of strategy and advocacy at Second Harvest of Silicon Valley. “If the county is able to expand that benefit, we know that it would be a very strong support for the health of our entire community.”
Proposing to provide the maximum benefits for CalFresh recipients beyond May, Chavez suggested that the county can begin with a pilot program for veterans. Chavez wrote in a memo that veterans who are unemployed, disabled or work in low-wage jobs are often ineligible for the maximum CalFresh benefit, which is $194 a month for a household of one. Before the pandemic, social workers said that single-household veterans who are homeless often qualify for only $16 monthly for groceries, according to Chavez’s office. The county staff will begin looking for options to maximize CalFresh benefits for all recipients and report back to the board.
Editor’s Note: Jennifer Loving, executive director of Destination: Home, serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.