Hawaii child care providers struggle amid virus outbreak

HONOLULU — Hawaii was not fully meeting the large demand for affordable child care before the coronavirus outbreak. But many providers are now struggling with a severe decrease in business and unsure if they will reopen after the health emergency passes.

Hawaii asked the federal government to allow parents to use subsidies at more than one child care provider since Democratic Gov. David Ige’s stay-at-home order took effect March 25, Hawaii Public Radio reported Saturday.

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A 2017 study by the University of Hawaii’s Center on the Family found that demand for child care in the state greatly exceeded supply. Although 64% of children of working parents need care, providers regulated by the state Department of Human Service could only serve 25% of them.

Since the coronavirus outbreak began, the federal government allocated about $11.3 million for child care subsidies to the state. But it is not yet clear who will receive the money.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Kamaaina Kids Vice President Buffy Owens said the company, one of Hawaii’s largest child care providers, went from caring for 10,000 children to about 600.

“This has pretty much gutted the entire company. We’ve laid off well over 500 people. And I don’t know what’s gonna happen,” Owens said. “We’re applying for the stimulus plan just like everyone else.”

Deborah Zysman, executive director of Hawaii Children’s Action Network, said not all child care providers have access to resources like established companies.

“Many, especially our neighbor islands, are actually just often a woman providing child care out of her home,” she said. “Those are frankly the ones that you’re most concerned about.”

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Those providers may need small business loans included in federal stimulus funds, Zysman said.

The “child care industry is very fragile,” Zysman said. “A lot of people are very concerned that this crisis is going to just bankrupt some and force them to close, and they won’t reopen.”

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