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State Launches Online Tool For Essential Workers Looking For Child Care

Kathleen J. Davis
90.5 WESA

More than 700 child care providers across Pennsylvania have been issued waivers to remain open if they care for children of essential workers. The state Department of Human Services launched a new tool Friday to help connect parents with those providers.

The open facilities account for about 14 percent of all statewide child care centers and group child care homes. Gov. Tom Wolf mandated most facilities to close last week when they were deemed “non life-sustaining”. Child care providers operating in home settings were not asked to close and do not need a waiver to continue operations because there are fewer children together in those locations.

The online tool allows parents to search a map for care centers with waivers that may have open spots for their children. As of midday Friday there were more than 50 open centers in Allegheny County.  

“By making the list public of those facilities that are open with waivers, we can help get those other essential personnel to those facilities that have waivers,” said Teresa Miller, the Department of Human Services Secretary.

Tracey Campanini, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Child Development and Early Learning, said her office is providing waivers in “good faith” to centers who say they serve essential workers. She said those centers are asked to only care for children of essential workers and to ask families who have the capacity to keep children home to do so to free up spaces for families who can’t.

Essential employees include first responders, health care workers and employees of life-sustaining businesses.

“Child care providers play a critical role for these families. They’re also essential for the health of these children and families. And they allow them to go to work to save and protect lives, ensure food is still available and protect vulnerable communities during this time of crisis,” Miller said.

This week a group of early learning advocates called for more than $150 million in stimulus funding to prevent the collapse of child care centers.

“If nearly one-third of Pennsylvania’s current providers close permanently, this will most certainly jeopardize our economic recovery,” Cara Ciminillo the executive director of Pittsburgh-based Trying Together said.

Miller said she is also concerned about the economic impact closures will have. DHS temporarily modified a child care subsidy program called Child Care Works through April 30. The program will continue to make payments for all children enrolled as opposed to those attending centers, families whose centers close or whose jobs are not considered essential will not have to pay copays, and child absences will not be counted toward annual absences.

Campanini said centers that are open are asked to immediately notify the department of health if workers or children are exposed to COVID-19.

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.