More than 5,000 Washington, D.C.-area child care centers remain closed, some of which will never reopen, according to a review of state records by the News4 I-Team.
The industry is suffering a growing economic crisis fueled by COVID-19 safety restrictions, capacity reductions, uncertainty over schools reopening and mass layoffs of parents who typically require child care.
“If this continues, I can’t guarantee we’ll be there in the fall,” said Dana Miller, who runs the Little Smiling Faces child care centers in Upper Marlboro and Bowie. “We are definitely not breaking even. We’re losing money. As we stay open, we are actually operating in the negative.”
At the Greenway Learning Center in Greenbelt, operator Patti Smith said COVID-19 health restrictions have reduced their maximum enrollment from 40 to 10.
“Any child care business is fragile right now,” Smith said “In order to survive, we need to expand our capacity.”
As Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia state officials ease COVID-19 health restrictions, child care centers are attempting to reopen or expand their capacity. But requirements for social distancing and increased sterilization have forced thousands of centers to reduce the number of children they serve, further draining financial coffers and triggering furloughs, layoffs and service reductions.
Using a series of public records requests, the News4 I-Team found almost 40% of all child care centers have temporarily or permanently closed since the beginning of 2020. In Maryland, 5,047 child care providers remain open, while 2,811 have closed. Virginia’s child care agency reports 3,715 facilities are open, with 2,324 closed. In the District, the I-Team found just 111 licensed facilities are open, with 358 closed.
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The Zipcodes With the Highest Concentration of Children in the DMV
This map shows the percent of children per zipcode (circle color) and the total count of children per zipcode (circle size).
Source: American Community Survey - US Census 2018 5-Year Estimates
Credit: Anisa Holmes / NBC Washington
Chris Peusch, executive director of the Maryland State Child Care Association, said child care centers are suffering financial struggles in communities of all sizes, in all sections of the region. Peusch said Montgomery County attempted to ease the burden by approving a $10 million emergency fund to help reduce closures or furloughs. She said federal aid is necessary to tackle a crisis that is national in scope and growing in severity.
The U.S. House of Representatives has proposed a $50 billion relief package to help fund child care centers as the COVID-19 crisis continues. Though no vote has been scheduled, supporters of the relief aid said the faltering of American child centers will soon cripple the American workforce. Parents without child care slots will be unable to return to work, especially as schools plan for only partial reopening.
“This is a very serious and complicated issue,” said Flora Gee, who said she has been unable to reopen her Prince George’s County early education center due to the COVID-19 enrollment restrictions. Gee said the shrinking of the local child care industry threatens to trigger a surge in prices.
“We might see the price of child care raised very high, so they can cover payroll, insurance, rent and mortgages,” Gee said.
Smith said if more child care centers are lost in the region, parents will face one-to-two year wait lists for infant care slots. Gee and Smith said the risk of inequities in child care access is growing amid a pandemic that has already disproportionately impacted lower-income families.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.