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‘Underfunded And Underinvested’: How American Rescue Plan Funds Could Stabilize The State’s Child Care Industry

Emma Lee

On today’s program: The director of public policy from Trying Together explains how millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan will support child care providers; we discuss whether workers whose employment is terminated because they don’t comply with vaccine mandates can collect unemployment benefits; and local poet Toi Derricotte considers how her work has changed others in light of receiving the Academy of American Poets’ Wallace Stevens Award.

Child care funding is getting a boost from the American Rescue Plan
(0:00 - 7:11)

The Wolf administration laid out plans to distribute $655 million from the American Rescue Plan to state-licensed child care providers.

“This is an industry that was underfunded and underinvested in prior to the pandemic,” says Emily Neff, director of public policy for Trying Together, which advocates for and supports high-quality child care and the education of young children. “Really the pandemic has continued to exacerbate these existing issues.”

According to a survey conducted by Trying Together, 92% of programs surveyed are reporting staffing shortages, which Neff says is impacting 3,400 children.

These federal funds will mostly be given in the form of one-time grants to certified facilities that have been in operation since January 31, 2021.

Neff says the lack of staffing is contributing to under-enrollment in programs. Some parents also decided to keep their students out of child care due to health and safety concerns.

One-time funding, Neff says, will stabilize the industry because it can be used to support wages, bonuses, or facility costs.

“We do recognize that there does need to be longer-term solutions to ensure that childcare can survive and thrive and that the system can be built up so that children and families can be served and that families can return to work.”

Local attorney says it’s unclear if unemployment benefits will be withheld if one doesn’t comply with an employers vaccine mandate
(7:12 - 13:57)

Earlier this month, the Biden administration rolled out requirements for companies with over 100 employees to mandate either vaccinations or weekly COVID-19 tests for each employee.

In some cases, workers who do not comply with this policy and don’t qualify for an exemption could be subject to termination. And, if a worker is terminated, they might not be eligible for unemployment compensation.

Patrick Abramowich, a partner at Fox Rothschild, focuses on employment matters says termination for refusing to comply with COVID-19 mitigation efforts could be considered “willful misconduct.”

“It's very likely that disregarding an employer's rule requiring mandatory vaccination would be willful misconduct,” Abramowich says. “But the Department of Labor and Industry has actually issued a statement on this issue that they will evaluate each case on its own merits, because even if there is an intentional disregard of an employer's rule, the claimant may still be eligible if there is good cause for disregarding the rule.”

Good cause, Abramowich says, could be a case in which an employee is directed to do something dangerous, such as operating machinery incorrectly.

“There is an obligation under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance to accommodate either a disability or a sincerely held religious belief with regard to COVID vaccination mandates,” Abramowich says. “Those would be instances where, I would think, a claimant might be deemed eligible for refusing to get a vaccination.”

“It's a changing landscape,” he says. “Until courts grapple with some of these issues surrounding reasonable accommodation and eligibility for unemployment compensation until we have a well-developed body of case law, there will always be some uncertainty.”

However, he notes, employers are authorized to require things like medical examinations or drug tests from employees, and vaccinations could fall under the same protections.

Pittsburgh poet Toi Derricotte was bestowed the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award
(13:58 - 22:30)

A Pittsburgh writer and poet was honored with the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets. Toi Derricotte, professor emerita of English at the University of Pittsburgh who has authored six collections of poetry, says she was surprised to receive the recognition.

“When I was a baby poet in the 70s and 80s, everybody was a white male,” Derricotte says. “This is something I never even hoped for. I always thought, you know, just do your work and things might change, but I didn't expect anything like this.”

Derricotte says when she wasn’t confident in her writing, she wrote to change herself and others. She uses a lot of herself in her work, one example is writing about the birth of her son in a home for unwed mothers and her feelings of shame at the time.

“I started to realize by writing these things and admitting what I was feeling, that you could change,” says Derricotte. “You could change that part of yourself that felt poor, or ashamed, or feel like an outsider and small.”

While Derricotte says that this kind of vulnerability is rewarding, it can also be quite difficult, especially when getting feedback from readers.

“It's so scary because, of course, the women, the people who want to love you the most are the ones who might say, oh, well, you've gone too far this time,” she says. “But that's the risk you take. And to me, everybody's got to do it their own way and figure out their own time. But to me, I'm so glad I took those risks.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Rebecca Reese is a production assistant for The Confluence.
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