Child care plays pivotal role during health crisis

COVID-19 Policy Analysis: As our nation confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, OK Policy will be analyzing state and federal policies that impact our state and its residents during this national health emergency. These posts reflect the most current information available at publication, and we will update or publish follow-ups as new information becomes available.

NOTE: OK Policy is not a state agency and we cannot assist in applying for state services or provide legal advice.

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As Oklahoma closes schools and businesses to help stop the spread of COVID-19, child care providers are playing a critical role for supporting delivery of health care and other vital services such as sanitation, utilities, postal, grocery, corrections, and emergency services. By staying open, child care centers make it possible for those workers with children to carry out these important roles. The Oklahoma State Department of Health has issued special guidelines for child care facilities that remain open. Below are some policy measures that can support keeping child care centers open during the COVID-19 health emergency.  

During this critical time, Oklahoma should follow the lead of other states and support child care providers who already operate under razor thin profit margins. Temporarily replacing attendance-based reimbursement policies with those based on enrollment would provide a stable source of revenue to providers. This would help facilities remain open during this unpredictable time. The state should broaden child care subsidy regulations, which help low-income working parents pay for child care. Families would also have greater access to care through changes such as waiving copayments for families and automatically extending 12-month eligibility renewals during the pandemic.

It is also important that relief for child care providers is included in the third federal stimulus package now being considered. Providing robust, flexible funding for the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) would allow child care providers to stay afloat if they need to close for health safety. Oklahoma already faces a shortage of child care throughout the state and a national survey reported that one in three child care providers would not be able to cover fixed costs if closed for more than two weeks. The state and federal government should give child care providers access to mortgage forbearance, rent deferrals, and capital through grants and zero-interest loans to keep them afloat during closures. Additionally, already underpaid child care workers should be provided access to unemployment insurance, health insurance, and any additional economic supports needed while they are out of work. 

Finally, in order to ensure sufficient care for children of health workers, the state should consider passing an emergency provision to allow the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to issue expedited provisional licenses for child care services in high need areas. This would allow employers, such as hospitals, to operate a disaster relief child care center for employees, as well as use public and nonpublic school facilities for child care. Other states have already initiated emergency responses to fill this need, which could also include reopening closed child care centers for children of essential workers. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Fine joined OK Policy in July 2018 as the education policy analyst. Originally from New York, she began her career in education as an Oklahoma teacher. Rebecca proudly comes from a family of educators, and spent four years teaching middle school in Tulsa and Union Public Schools. She graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in political science from the University of Rochester and received an M.A. in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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