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Many child care facilities remain closed. Who will watch kids as parents return to work?

Who will care for the children of working parents when they return to their jobs, if schools and many child care providers remain closed? The CARES Act allocated $3.5 billion to support child care programs, but a national organization says many providers have yet to receive any funding. Special correspondent Cat Wise reports from Oregon, where a shortage of child care slots preceded the pandemic.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As states begin reopening, one issue looms large for working families: Who will care for their children?

    Special correspondent Cat Wise reports on the child care situation in Oregon.

  • Cat Wise:

    Her kids were all smiles in recent Mother's Day photos, but the past few months have been rough for single mother Lydia Verschuren.

    She's a home health care provider in Salem, Oregon. And like many essential workers around the country, she had to keep working even after her children's schools closed down in mid-March.

  • Lydia Verschuren:

    I was getting pretty stressed, to be honest.

  • Cat Wise:

    Then she learned about a new emergency child care program for first responders and health care workers in the Salem area. It's free and run by the local public school district.

  • Lydia Verschuren:

    I jumped from joy. I was like, I need to get in on that. I got accepted, and they could start right away after a weekend or Monday. So, it was just like that.

  • Cat Wise:

    Now, most mornings, around 7:30, Verschuren brings her 4-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter to the East Salem Community Center, where the program is run.

    During drop-offs, every child's temperature is taken, and families are asked a series of health questions to screen for possible infections. So far, none of the 64 enrolled children have tested positive for the coronavirus.

    Oregon is one of a small number of states where school districts have stepped in to provide child care for essential workers during the outbreak. The Salem-Keizer School District was one of the first in the state to comply in mid-March after an order from Governor Kate Brown.

  • Stephanie Whetzel:

    We hadn't practiced for providing care for — emergency care for first responders. That was something we didn't have a manual for.

  • Cat Wise:

    Stephanie Whetzel is the district's early childhood coordinator.

  • Stephanie Whetzel:

    We're happy that we're able to help parents provide a service that was much needed. I know how stressful this is for parents. We're doing everything we can possibly do to keep kids safe, staff safe, families safe, our own families at home safe.

  • Cat Wise:

    Some of those safety measures include rigorous sanitizing, a nurse on site, and twice-a-day temperature checks of students and staff.

    Children, who range in age from 1 to 11, are kept in separate small groups with dedicated staff to reduce the risk of spreading the virus if a case does occur. The program is funded by the district, state and federal government.

    Salem is just one of many communities in Oregon and around the country grappling with work force impacts from the sudden lack of child care. Before the pandemic, every county in Oregon was considered a child care desert, where there are three or more children for every licensed child care slot.

    Today, the situation is more grim. According to the state, about 40 percent of licensed child care providers are closed. Others applied early on for emergency child care licenses from the state to remain open, but, in some cases, providers have had unfilled slots because families have chosen to keep their children home, out of safety or other concerns, like finances.

  • Lynette Fraga:

    Well, child care around the United States prior to the pandemic was already challenged and really fractured. Now that we're in the context of the pandemic, it is really breaking.

  • Cat Wise:

    Lynette Fraga is the executive director of Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit focused on improving access to quality, affordable child care.

    The organization has been advocating for more federal money, around $50 billion, to keep the child care industry from crumbling during the pandemic.

  • Lynette Fraga:

    As we're moving through reopening, because it's going to be more expensive to provide child care because of the cost of supplies and equipment and group sizes and so forth, what we are going to see is that parents are going to have to bear the price burden, potentially.

    Might they have to be making decisions not to go back to work because they can't find child care for their children that's safe and reliable?

  • Cat Wise:

    In Oregon, economic recovery will depend in part on child care providers like Shannon Aden, who has run a home-based program in Portland for more than 30 years.

    Over the last several months, she's been providing care for children of essential workers, but, due to state regulations, she had to cut her enrollment from 16 to 10 children. Aden estimates she's spent about $1,200 more on extra cleaning supplies and higher food costs.

    She's kept her staff paid, but that's meant she's not had any income since the end of February.

  • Shannon Aden:

    I think that this pandemic has shown the country that, without child care providers, the country can't run very well.

    We're not in the hospitals, and we're not putting out the fires and transporting the patients, but we're taking care of the most precious thing we have. And that's our children, so that the parents can go do those important jobs.

  • Cat Wise:

    Back in Salem, Lydia Verschuren and many other families are trying to figure out child care plans for the coming months.

    The Salem-Keizer School District recently announced their program will end on June 9, when schools in the area close for the summer. But they are trying to connect families with some of the local child care providers that will be open.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Cat Wise reporting from Portland, Oregon.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Such an important issue.

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