Nebraska Lawmakers Hear About Childcare Provider Challenges During Pandemic
By Jack Williams , Managing Editor and Reporter Nebraska Public Media News
Sept. 29, 2020, 1:24 p.m. ·
Childcare providers in Nebraska are still struggling to survive as the pandemic continues and many say they can’t stay in business for much longer. On Tuesday, state lawmakers heard details of the challenges they face at a hearing at the State Capitol.
The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee heard testimony from a number of experts in early childcare and education and the situation in Nebraska hasn’t gotten much better. Since the start of the pandemic, almost 700 licensed childcare providers have had to close for at least a day, 63 have closed permanently and 224 are temporarily closed.
“There is no back-up industry to help fill this vacuum,” Elizabeth Everett with childcare advocacy group First Five Nebraska testified. “If childcare doesn’t exist, there is nothing else to replace it. That’s not true for other industries. If something else leaves, more likely something else will take its place. For childcare there’s a vacuum. There’s nothing for them right now.”
Last June there were more than 18,000 children in the State’s childcare subsidy program. In June of this year, that number had fallen to around 13,600 children. Kathleen Gallagher is with the Buffett Early Childhood Institute in Omaha and told lawmakers providers don’t have much of a safety net.
“Less than a quarter have access to paid sick leave to cover a two-week illness such as COVID-19,” Gallagher said. “The majority do not have employer-sponsored healthcare. If they risk caring for children during the pandemic and become ill themselves, many don’t have health insurance to cover treatment or a hospital stay.”
Nebraska already faced significant childcare resource issues even before the pandemic is some areas. According to Appropriations Committee Chairman, Senator John Stinner, 91 Nebraska counties don’t have sufficient childcare capacity to meet demand and eleven counties don’t have any licensed childcare providers at all.