Child care workers frustrated with reopening timeline rally at Statehouse

Published: May. 15, 2020 at 4:16 PM EDT
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Vermont child care facilities are preparing to reopen, but some providers say the state's June 1st date doesn't given them enough time to get ready. And some are still questioning if they can afford both the cost of new COVID-19 safety measures and the potential financial impact if families choose not to send their children back.

Child care workers Friday morning held a socially-distanced protest on the Statehouse lawn. They're expressing frustration with a reopening timeline they say is too aggressive.

Cecelia Puleio is pulling double-duty watching a friend's children so she can go to work, so she knows how important child care is for working families. But she also knows how close physical contact can be in most programs and thinks the state is reopening too fast.

"Zero to full is unreasonable. There has to be a plan in place for children, families, and teachers to feel safe," Puleio said.

While some say the group sizes are too large to start out, others are worried about how they're going to pay for changes. And what happens if families choose not to send their children back?

"We can't survive if we're not at full capacity because parents pay tuition," said Vicky Senni with the Central Vermont Child Care Directors Network, the organizer of the rally.

She says state payments so far have been a lifesaver, but those are ending June 1. "We felt like we were pushed into a corner. You're allowed to open, but you don't have to. But guess what? If we don't, we will have no money and we will fail," Senni said.

The state has promised help in the form of $6 million to deal with the added impact of COVID-19. However, demonstrators say that's not enough. "We know that $6 million is not going to get very far," Senni said.

"I think you could ask any group whether it's going to be enough for money and people will say no. That's the money that we've put out there, that's money that we think is going to be sufficient," said Vermont Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith. He went on to say that the agency is going to work with child care providers to help them get supplies like PPE and try to address their concerns during the transition back.

"If we have to require some more flexibility during this 30-day transition, given that it will be a month, we will certainly work with them to provide that transition," Smith said.

The state's deadline for applications for financial assistance is May 22, but Smith said they were extending the eligibility for restart grants until July 6, so providers who don't open right away on June 1 can still take advantage of them.

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