NASHUA – U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., met with Mayor Jim Donchess and state childcare advocates on Friday at Nashua Head Start, 134 Allds St., to discuss the American Rescue Plan's support of local childcare programs during the pandemic.
Shaheen held an outdoor roundtable discussion with Southern New Hampshire Services Child Development Director Sarah Vanderhoof, Early Learning New Hampshire Executive Director Jackie Cowell, Mena's Childcare owner Mena Ferreira, Moms Rising New Hampshire state Director Christina D’Allesandro, preschool outreach specialist SAU 90 and SAU 21’s Jackie Fuhrman and Donchess.
After introductions, Shaheen spoke about the several COVID packages, adding that, "each one has done a better job of responding to the childcare needs that we have in the country."
"What I want to know is if you’re seeing the benefits of that yet," she said? "And what else you need and what you’re seeing in the marketplace?"
The discussion turned specifically to the challenges that daycare programs are experiencing with the lack of workforce interested in returning to work or unable to do so.
"Not just in terms of what you all need, but in terms of thinking about how we get people back to work," Shaheen said. "If parents don’t have childcare, they can’t go back to work."
Back in December, the American Rescue Plan allocated $10 billion nationwide, with New Hampshire receiving $20 million.
Shaheen asked the panel as to what they’re seeing on the frontlines of childcare providers and what they believe should be happening?
"We’ve been struggling to find employees," Fuhrman said. "I work with the public school and preschool programs, but I also work with the private programs."
Fuhrman works with families who are homeless or who are in transition to help them find quality pre-K programs and help them maneuver barriers such as transportation and tuition assistance.
"Applying for tuition assistance can be very daunting," she said. "I’ll go to them, they come to me. I’ll help them fill it out. I’ll watch their kids if I have to so they can fill it out just so they have some time to do that."
Using an example, Furhman explained that a mother was living at a homeless shelter with her two boys, who were both enrolled in full-time childcare.
"She was a step one, and was receiving the most state assistance she could possibly get," she continued. "She was expected to pay, without the state tuition assistance, over $700 a week. With the full amount of step one, she was still required to pay $350 out of her pocket while living at a homeless shelter."
The other childcare advocates shared similar stories.
Vanderhoof said that since March 2020, her program has gone through many adaptations.
"We are extremely grateful for all the funding that we have received," she said. "Because it made it so we could stay open."
That said, the childcare advocates present noted the same thing: There is a tremendous workforce shortage.
"As of March, we had 53 applications for employment and 29 of them were unqualified," Vanderhoof said. "They didn’t qualify for the positions that they were actually applying for. And the 24 that were qualified, nine didn’t even respond to interview requests when contacted, and eight declined or canceled their interview."
Due in part to Shaheen’s leadership during negotiations for the American Rescue Plan, New Hampshire will receive more than $77 million in grants to provide relief for child care providers and to support working families who need access to affordable child care, as well as $405,105 in federal grants to Head Start programs, including Nashua Head Start.