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Child care providers seek state support amid struggling workforce, COVID-19 impacts

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Posted at 7:17 PM, May 11, 2023

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Parents know all too well, raising a child isn't cheap. A big chunk of cash could go to childcare, with some services costing just as much as the price of rent.

However, providers are having a hard time as well. Financial struggles have resulted in the closure of some facilities and a pleat to our state lawmakers for aid.

Many struggles started or enhanced when the pandemic hit in 2020. Early that year, the state ordered day cares to drop to 50 percent capacity, eliminating a large portion of income. Three years later, care providers are still dealing with the impact as pandemic relief expires. About a third of the Lone Star State's childcare services remain closed. The ones that have survived and continue to serve, like the Neighborhood Centers of Corpus Christ are still struggling with money.

Neighborhood Centers of Corpus Christi's history of service in the Coastal Bend

The organization provides child care and educational opportunities for early learners, from birth to approximately five-years-old. Children are provided a curriculum based learning environment. The organization started in 1926, with a goal of helping the westside community. It expanded from providing nurseries, social services and healthcare. Currently, the organization focuses its efforts on child care, early learning centers, and youth recreational development. There are currently four facilities in the city's west side.

"We'd love to stay on the west side because that's where the population exists where we were chartered to service, primarily low-income families with limited opportunities," Cesar Flores, the president and CEO of Neighborhood Centers of Corpus Christi said. "So our job is to help these children get a better education at a very early age and help them compete, believe it or not, at kindergarten."

COVID-19 enhancing challenges

The organization serves more than 100 children. However, COVID-19 resulted in a drop in enrollment numbers and 2020 enrollment hasn't recovered.

"We were hopping along just great. We were targeted to have a great year when COVID hit," Flores said. "We're a non-profit, 501 c3. So we don't focus on profits. We focus on staying alive and not going red. But when COVID hit our numbers have dropped dramatically by 30 to 40 percent but our cost have gone up dramatically. And much of that is attributed to our payroll costs because we've had to increase pay to attract personnel because of inflation. Cost of food has gone up, everything has gone up."

The center was able to receive funding from the federal government due to the CARES Act.

However, Flores explained it was a small remediation to help cover immediate costs from the last few years. The non-profit is still facing a funding shortage. Because they're not alone, the Texas Association of Education of Young Children (TAEYC) predicts roughly 44 percent of child care facilities will shutter in under two years if funding is adequate.

"For us, we've gotten our last payment with the CARES Act, so now we're running negative," Flores said. "We're scrambling to find out where else we've got funding to cut. "

Flores referred to payroll again, saying it has increased more than 30 percent, and he wouldn't want it any less due to their desire of providing quality care and educational opportunities for children.

"We also can't raise our fees because we would price out the people we were tasked to serve. So we have to keep our fees manageable within their budget. Yet we still have to provide that quality service among a shortage of staff," he said. Early childhood learning centers, aka childcare facilities, as everybody knows them, is a critical need for a community. If we don't have that, people that come, your nurses, your policemen, people that work in your restaurants, they don't have child care."

State action, is it enough?

Many advocates and providers say this is an issue the state should look to resolve.

Texas House and Senate lawmakers are currently negotiating the 2024-25 spending plan. This legislative session, a $2.3 billion proposal could relieve the industry. A budget request by Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, would provide a direct-to-provider payment of about $1,000 per child per year, based on the number of children a day care facility is licensed to serve.

There are more than 13,000 child care centers and family child care homes which coul benefit from the support. However, it's uncertain whether the new state funding will be approved for the next two-year state budget. It's expected to total more than $300 billion when if passed later in May.

KRIS 6 News asked if the proposed aid would help the Neighborhood Centers of Corpus Christ.

" I think there needs to be a deep dive into understanding what our needs really are because there's talk of $1,000 of child funding per year, which when you run a facility like ours, which is four centers, that doesn't amount to very much. That's not a that's not a attainable. We need a long term goal," Flores said. "Right now we get nothing from the state. Yet, we get all the mandates of the education for the child care center to stay open."

Flores believes long-term direct-to-center funding should be established by the state. He believes it will help provide high-level education for children to prepare for kindergarten.

"We're licensed and there should be a minimum funding from the state. For each child that we have. Much the way they're proposing, but the $1,000 per year barely scrapes. You know our budget. We need a serious funding amount for each child. And that that amount goes to facilities and it goes to payroll, which is where we have the biggest need right now," he said.
He and other local providers are pushing local representatives to get involved and visit Coastal Bend sites to observe operations and needs.

KRIS 6 News is waiting for comment from Texas Senator Juan Chuy Hinojosa and House Representative Abel Herrero for comment.