Idaho's child care industry struggles with testing costs and staffing

Posted at 3:54 PM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-19 11:29:20-05

BOISE — As little funding is flowing to their programs, the child care industry is struggling. At the same time, the need is larger than ever. Providers are having a hard time accessing testing, which creates challenges for keeping the doors open.

"If we can prioritize rapid testing for our child care providers and cover those costs for them, it would lessen the barrier for them to be able to operate those programs," said Beth Oppenheimer, executive director of the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children.

The state made priority testing available for K-12 students and staff but left child care programs off the list.

"Most child care providers, they don't have insurance, and they also don't have the money to pay for testing, so there's that piece of the puzzle, and in addition to that, rapid testing is very difficult to find," said Oppenheimer.

The job only pays $9 an hour on average with no benefits or insurance. Prioritizing rapid testing would help end the domino effect programs see now, according to Oppenheimer.

"A child care provider who is exposed will have to quarantine for a very long time, so now they're not making the wages, and the child care program itself trying to cover that teacher in the classrooms is next to impossible," said Oppenheimer. "A lot of directors and administrators of child care programs have to fill in for those teachers."

Sometimes, no one can cover. K-12 schools are also having trouble recruiting substitutes. Some child care programs have to shut their doors while teachers quarantine, a troubling reality for an already struggling industry.

"Another big challenge that our childcare industry is facing is just being able to hire staff," said Oppenheimer. "A lot of folks are leaving the field."

Programs did receive some CARES Act funding to help sustain the industry during the pandemic, but that funding runs out in December.

"We are hearing from childcare providers that they do not know what they're going to do when this funding runs out, their enrollments continue to be low because parents are still working from home," said Oppenheimer.

It's important to remember that not all people can work from home, so programs are still needed.

"Our healthcare industry, as you know, they have to be at work, and they're working more and more hours so child care needs to be available for our essential workers," said Oppenheimer.

The hope now for these programs looks at the federal level to see if another relief package comes. Still, Oppenheimer says the key to solving the issue is partnerships with public and private companies.