Harrisburg – At the request of state Senators Judy Schwank (D – Berks) and Lindsey Williams (D – Allegheny), the Senate and House Democratic Policy Committees Wednesday held a virtual public hearing to discuss critical funding for childcare centers, pre-K, and Head Start programs; and their hard-working employees affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has exposed the true struggle of working families to access quality childcare at all levels,” Schwank said. “As we ask these essential workers to put themselves on the frontlines of fighting this virus, they should have the peace of mind that their children have the highest quality of care and academic resources.”
Williams added, “Pre-pandemic, one of the most important issues we as a Commonwealth faced was access to quality, affordable childcare. Asking parents to return to work now without providing them quality childcare for their children is unthinkable. We need to pay providers the wages they deserve for keeping our children safe and educating them during such crucial development periods. A fair and just economic recovery for our workforce must include investing in childcare.”
Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler (D-Phila.) said, “Investing in childcare centers is investing in the next generation, our children. As a working mom with two young kids I know just how important it is to have great childcare right in the neighborhood, providing safe, reliable care. Childcare centers are places of learning, growing and nurturing for our children, and we need to do everything we can to support them so that when working parents are at work, their doors are open!”
Rep. Mary Jo Daley (D-Montgomery) added, “Balancing childcare and a job is one of the very real challenges that parents face in normal times. Considering the topsy-turvy world of COVID-19 and the economic necessity of getting people back to work, we must do everything we can to stabilize and support childcare centers so that our children and caregivers have a safe, healthy place to work and play.”
According to the Start Strong PA and Pre-K for PA campaigns, Pennsylvania could see the permanent closures of nearly one-third of its childcare centers due to this extended economic shut down.
Pennsylvania has received $106 million in funding to support childcare providers through the federal CARES Act, with $51 million already being allocated and in the process of being distributed to eligible certified childcare providers through regional Early Learning Resource Centers.
However, Schwank, Williams, Fiedler and Daley plan to introduce legislation to further assist childcare centers with administrative expenses, including payroll, and compensate for the loss of tuition payments from families. They also want to extend Pre-K and Head Start programs into the summer to mitigate early childhood learning losses for students.
“We need to make every effort to support our essential workers, and also to support those who will be returning to work as our counties enter the Yellow and Green phases of reopening across Pennsylvania,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D – Lehigh/Northampton), chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. “I am very happy that we are able to host these virtual hearings to obtain ideas on the best ways to help our workers during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster) chair of the House Democratic Policy Committee, thanked Representatives Fiedler and Daley for “requesting this important hearing. Childcare centers serve a vital role in our economy that must not be overlooked, and they deserve our support to ensure safety for all.”
Testifiers at the policy committee hearing included numerous experts and advocates who spoke on what is needed in the childcare sector during this pandemic, and the best ways that the legislature can assist workers and their families.
“Childcare is a critical infrastructure to the economic well-being of Pennsylvania and her citizens now,” said Tracey Campanini, deputy secretary of the state’s Office of Child Development and Early Learning. “High-quality childcare is critical to Pennsylvania’s future. As important as the discussion is to reopen childcare, I would just remind you there were funding needs of this industry that existed prior to COVID-19.”
Oriana Hood, owner of Pembroke Pee Wee Daycare & Little People Daycare School of Lehigh Valley, told the lawmakers that childcare centers face great uncertainty and daunting financial challenges as Pennsylvania struggles to regain some level of “normalcy.”
“We need help recouping monies lost; we need help to open and remain functional until everyone feels comfortable coming back, she said. “I pray that the businesses I have worked so hard to make a success can remain intact. But for all of this to happen we need funds to operate.
Joining Campanini and Hood, the following testified:
- Jen DeBell, executive director, Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children;
- Donna Cooper, executive director, Public Citizens for Children and Youth;
- Cara Ciminillo, executive director, Trying Together;
- Damaris Alvarado-Rodriguez, executive director, Children’s Playhouse Early Learning Center;
- Laura Heckart, director, Albright Early Learning Center;
- Laura Crispin, Professor of Economics, Saint Joseph’s University;
- Kate Reber, parent; and
- Beckey Flaherty, executive director, Shady Lane School
In addition to Boscola, Schwank and Williams, the following senators participated: Pam Iovino (D-Allegheny), Maria Collett (D-Bucks/Montgomery), John Blake (D-Lackawanna) and Shariff Street (D-Phila.) Joining Sturla, Fiedler and Daley were the following House Legislators: Sara Innamorato (D-Allegheny), Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny), Joe Webster (D-Montgomery) and Dan Miller (D-Allegheny).
A full recording of the hearing will be available at senatorboscola.com/policy.