Connecticut child care providers said Monday the state needs additional federal resources to help address the industry’s longstanding staffing challenges, which have been exacerbated by the uptick in COVID-19 cases and the overall labor shortage.
David Morgan, president and CEO of TEAM Inc., a Waterbury area anti-poverty agency that provides child care and other services, said the state of Connecticut cannot fix the problem alone.
“We are definitely at a labor shortage and staffing crisis that really needs significant federal investment,” he said during a virtual news conference with Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont and other officials. “We right now have a funding model that compromises fiscal solvency and sustainability of child care.”
Morgan said parents and families cannot afford to pay more for child care, a service he and others said is needed to ensure the state’s economy continues to rebound as more people get back to work.
The state set aside a share of its COVID-19 relief funding to help support day care providers financially during the pandemic, money that Lamont said is expected to continue for another year. About a quarter of the funds was supposed to provide a boost in wages to workers, many of whom are leaving the industry for higher-paying jobs in the school systems and elsewhere.
Connecticut also used some of the COVID funds to train more day care providers, subsidize tuition to encourage more people to enter the profession, and fund a pilot program that provides bonuses to workers with more education in hopes of encouraging them to remain in the profession.
But Beth Bye, commissioner of the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, said the state is hoping President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better Act” will finally pass in Washington, ensuring Connecticut will receive $168 million in the first fiscal year and more over time - for a total of about $700 million over three years - to help design and build a quality early childhood system that pays workers a fair wage, making the industry more financially attractive to applicants.
At least 100 classrooms across Connecticut are currently closed due to workforce issues, according to Bye. The worker shortage has been exacerbated by the recent surge in COVID-19 infections, which has forced many day care workers to quarantine, even if they have no symptoms, in order to protect the children in their care.
“We work with children five and under and they cannot be vaccinated,” said Monette Ferguson, executive director of the Alliance for Community Empowerment Inc. in Bridgeport. “We cannot continue to help our families get back to work unless we respect these protocols.”
Meanwhile, unlike many other states that lost as much as 10% of their day care slots during the pandemic, Bye said Connecticut lost less than 1%. She credited the state’s financial assistance and Lamont’s decision to keep the child care facilities open.