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Shaheen: As many as half of state's child care centers in jeopardy

LACONIA - The state could lose about half of its child-care facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic, the participants in a virtual meeting with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen were told.

Shaheen told a group of child-care providers and advocates on Monday that the financial squeeze shows just how essential additional federal assistance is if these child-care centers are to survive.

"If we don't get more support we will lose half of the child-care centers by the end of this pandemic," she said.

The latest COVID relief bill passed by Congress and signed into law by former President Donald Trump last month is expected to provide somewhere between $15 million and $20 million in assistance for child-care centers.

That money is expected to start reaching the individual facilities by mid-February, said Marty Ilg, deputy director at the state Department of Health and Human Services's Division of Economic and Housing Stability.

Shaheen said the federal assistance in that bill is sufficient to tide those government and non-government agencies hit by the pandemic until a broader relief bill can be passed.

President Joe Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief plan.

A relief package of that magnitude would probably translate into $80 million in assistance to child-care facilities and programs, said Jackie Cowell, executive director at Early Learning NH.

COVID restrictions are forcing child-care centers to keep their enrollments low and hours short. As a result, many employees are unable to work as many hours as they would like, leading some of those employees to leave for other jobs where they can make more money, either because of higher pay or more hours.

"People are moving from center to center," said Chris Emond, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Hampshire, which operates a facility in Laconia. "We can’t be competing with each other."

MaryLou Beaver, director at the Children's Place and Parent Education Center at Waypoint NH, gave an example of the problem Emond spoke of. She said the Children’s Place started advertising for two day-care worker positions in August. Since then they have received just two applications, and both applicants said they were not interested after being told they would be working only limited hours.

"Some of those who are working at the centers (now) are hanging on by a thread," she said.

"This is one of the biggest challenges," Shaheen, a Democrat, said. "What will happen next? How long will they go on?"

She said providers in the state and across the country have been severely impacted by the fallout of the public health and financial crisis and many are at risk of permanent closure, threatening New Hampshire’s economic recovery and the ability of working families to fully return to work.

Shaheen also stressed that everyone in the Granite State needs to be vaccinated against COVID.

"Life isn't going to get back to normal until we get everyone vaccinated," she said.