DC Child Care Associations Ask Mayor Bowser to Keep Making Child Care Subsidy Payments

Early childhood educator holding baby

COVID-19 has brought with it a storm of uncertainty and instability for the District’s child care providers, many of whom already struggled to make ends meet prior to the public health emergency.  In this exceptionally challenging time, one of the few sources of stability has been the child care subsidy program. The program supports nearly half of the District’s child care programs to some degree, all of whom serve families facing significant barriers to opportunity because of racism or economic marginalization. Throughout the pandemic, the Office of the State Superintendent - which oversees the child care subsidy program - has continued paying participants set rates meant to mirror their usual payments. These continued payments have played an important role in trying to stabilize the child care sector over the past months as costs to care for infants and toddlers within important, but stringent, CDC and DC Health and safety guidelines have, in some cases, doubled or tripled.

However, in less than two weeks, on September 30, the Office of the State Superintendent’s plans to pay providers in the child care subsidy program will expire. Child care programs are concerned that the office of the state superintendent has yet to release information about what programs can expect. With promises from the agency for an update coming next week, the child care sector is anxious to understand how potential payment changes will affect business revenue and whether their budgets - and their ability to stay afloat - will suffer as a result. Yesterday afternoon, six child care  associations sent Mayor Bowser a letter highlighting these concerns and asking for continued payments to all child care subsidy programs until December 31.  

September 17, 2020

Dear Mayor Bowser,

On September 30 - less than two weeks from today- OSSE’s current child care subsidy payment guidance will expire. As leaders of organizations that represent the District’s child care sector, we ask that OSSE continue making reliable, substantive payments to all child care providers participating in the child care subsidy program at least through December 31, 2020.

Over the past 6 months of the public health emergency, the child care subsidy program has been an important tool for stabilizing a segment of the child care sector and maintaining the supply of early learning programs in the District. To date, the city has seen the closure of very few child care programs, a fact attributable in part to OSSE’s continued payments. However, as COVID-19 continues with no end in sight, we have heard increasing concern and distress from our members about their ability to remain in business, and these concerns have risen as the end date for current payment guidance nears. To preserve the supply of child care, and particularly subsidy providers who serve families facing the greatest barriers to opportunity, it is critical that OSSE continue to provide support to the sector through the subsidy program. 

In developing subsidy payment guidance, we ask that you direct the State Office of Education to take the following actions: 

  • Continue making payments to all participating providers, whether open or temporarily closed: For many providers, the cost and limitations of reopening and providing services amidst COVID-19 could be financially devastating and could lead to their permanent closure, without sufficient support and time to plan.  Our members report that the cost to remain open has risen by 200-300% due to reduced class sizes based on CDC guidelines, increased staffing (and reduced supply of teachers), and costly cleaning measures and PPE necessary to comply with these health and safety guidelines. In particular, the health and safety guidelines create limitations on providers’ ability to fully enroll to a capacity that would bring in sufficient revenue to continue operations.

Additionally, given DCPS’ determination that it is unsafe to resume in-person learning, the dearth of data on the disease in young children, and the lack of a COVID-19 vaccine, providers need the flexibility to decide what is safest and most appropriate for themselves and their community. 

  • Minimize payment reductions: Many subsidy providers depend on subsidy payments to make ends meet while caring for children facing the greatest barriers to opportunity. Child care businesses operate on tight margins, with budgets that cannot withstand significant cuts in revenue. Reverting to attendance-based payments, in particular, would result in payment reductions for too many providers, who have seen their costs increase significantly due to the expenses we outline above.
  • Provide a minimum of 3 months notice prior to changing provider payments: As COVID-19 threatens to exacerbate DC’s child care shortage, it is important that payment changes occur with sufficient notice to allow businesses to plan. Three months is the minimum amount of time providers need to bring back or rehire staff, train them on health procedures, adapt their space and operating procedures to meet health requirements, purchase necessary PPE and cleaning supplies, and adapt their budgets to revenue changes. Additionally, many will need high quality technical assistance to make these adaptations.
  • Develop guidance in collaboration with providers: While OSSE’s Early Childhood Stakeholder calls have been valuable, decisions on matters of consequence to providers and the families they serve too often occur without them at the table, leading to unexpected challenges. In deciding how to update child care subsidy payment guidance, work with us to help you better understand our perspectives and the impact proposed actions will have to the viability of the sector. 

As you know, child care businesses are and will continue to be key to reigniting DC’s economy. However, many providers are already teetering at the edge of disaster. OSSE’s efforts to date have been meaningful, and we hope these recommendations will inform the development of more responsive, well-designed COVID-19 subsidy payment guidance structured to maintain DC's child care supply.

We welcome your questions.

Sincerely,

DC Association for the Education of the Young Child

DC Early Learning Collaborative

DC Family Child Care Association

DC Head Start Association

Director’s Exchange

Washington Association of Child Care Centers

DC Action for Children