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One-Third Of Child Care Facilities Could Close Permanently

Smart Start
Smart Start

Administrators of North Carolina's early childhood education program estimate the COVID-19 crisis could cause up to one-third of child care facilities to close if they don't get immediate financial relief from the N.C. Legislature.

Child care centers are getting subsidies from the state Department of Health and Human Services during the pandemic – but leaders of Smart Start they say it's not enough to make up for lost revenue.

Tara Fish is the executive director of the Harnett County Partnership for Children, a local organization that helps run Smart Start. She says the state is using the subsidies to reimburse facilities, but that means it takes a month for them to receive the money.

"In usual circumstances, that probably would not be as big of an issue, but child care providers who are serving subsidized children need additional funding from private-paying parents to help float the payroll issues most of the time," she said.

Smart Start leaders estimate nearly half of the state's child care facilities have closed at least temporarily. At the same time, however, facilities that are still open are being overwhelmed by the demand for child care during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Donna White is the interim director of the North Carolina Partnership for Children, which runs Smart Start. She told a group of state lawmakers Thursday that the state's hotline for emergency child care has been jammed.

"About 100 to 175 calls are coming in daily asking to be connected," she said. "Some counties are having to turn away families because the centers cannot find enough staff to remain open and serve them."

White said current bonuses of up to $300 per month for staff at child care facilities would not make up for the loss in revenue. She estimated one-third of those facilities could close permanently if they don't get financial help from the Legislature. Lawmakers say they plan to draft emergency legislation by the end of the month.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
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