Child Care Crisis: Why centers close
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Since the pandemic started, child care centers have been closing at an alarming rate.
KY3 News is working with the Springfield Daily Citizen to address the lack of child care in the Ozarks. CLICK HERE for more coverage.
In Springfield alone, about a dozen centers shut down. In the Ozarks, it’s estimated there are eleven thousand kids who have nowhere to go. It’s one of the essential jobs in the world, but it does not pay well. The average child care center worker makes around $11 an hour.
“The retail centers around here pay better. You know, McDonald’s pays better and has better benefits,” said Jessica Phillips with Messiah Lighthouse Child and Family Development Center.
“I’ve had a few applications come through on Indeed, but nothing that’s followed through. That’s been an issue. People don’t respond. I’ll talk to them, and they’ll stop messaging me, or I’ll set up an interview, and they won’t show just a lot of that has been happening, especially since COVID hit,” she said.
The center is operating at about 60% capacity. That means they have the space and resources to watch more kids, but there’s not enough staff. This center has a waitlist of about seventy kids.
“We are getting calls every day, and it’s just very defeating to tell families, ‘I’m sorry we are not going to have a spot. Maybe four or six months to a year for your child. And even then, I can’t guarantee it,” said Phillips.
There are other hurdles. Some low-income families pay a portion for child care. The centers get the rest of the money from the state.
“So what I hear all the time is, it is not financially feasible for providers to enter a contract with the state because those reimbursement rates are so low,” said State Rep. Betsy Fogle, who represents Missouri 135th District.
Sometimes centers will not accept foster kids because they’ll be in the red.
“The state pays what the state pays. We are not allowed to charge them the difference,” said Phillips.
Workers at Messiah Lighthouse don’t want to turn those kids away.
“It’s great to do. We want to help those and support those families,” said Phillips.
Despite the struggles, the doors are open. The biggest blessing. It’s rent-free. Messiah Lighthouse does not pay for rent or utilities. The church covers it.
“If we had to pay all that stuff, it would be hard to still be here,” said Phillips.
“I think that’s a perfect example right there, how a community looks at a problem and says here’s something we can do to help fix it. Here’s how we can get innovative in this approach to make this work better,” said State Senator Lincoln Hough, representing Missouri’s 30th District.
The American Rescue Plan Act has retention incentives for child care workers, including $500 for six months of employment and $1,000 for more than six months. Phillips will tell you the money can’t come soon enough.
“Now they’re saying it will be August or September before we can even apply for it,” said Phillips.
Child experts say to fix our crisis, it starts by paying people more.
“If we don’t fix that wage parody, none of this matters. None of it. You can go build it all day long People are not going to work for under $12 an hour,” said Robin Phillips with Child Care Aware of Missouri.
It’s a new item in this year’s state budget, $20 million for child care. The money should go toward investments to start up more centers. It will also help first responders pay for their child care costs. It was a bipartisan effort.
“This is an issue that impacts everybody that shares this great state with us. Last year alone, our economy lost out on $1.35 billion of revenue because our parents couldn’t enter into the workforce,” said Fogle.
It’s only a one-time thing, but if successful, State Senator Hough says he’ll work across party lines again.
“I will be more than happy to work with Senator Fogle and make sure we make this an annual appropriation,” he said.
The Office of Childhood is working on a plan to implement these funds. There are no ARPA applications open at this time. For child care ARPA Stabilization (staff retention), it will likely be August or September before new applications are available. For child care ARPA Discretionary, it will likely be October before the startup applications are open for child care programs that serve essential workers and small businesses applying to operate a child care program.
According to the bill, applications must be in by January 31.
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