Childcare Services Agency Helps Essential Workers, Seeks More Solutions Post CARES Act
Many challenges parents and caretakers face under normal circumstances are exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Through the CARES Act, additional federal dollars were granted to help essential workers with things like child care regardless of income. Still, not every new challenge for working parents has been addressed during the pandemic.
Resource and referral agencies across the state such as Mountain Heart Community Services Inc., which is in 30 West Virginia counties, are processing the increased applications.
Across the state, essential workers have qualified for financial help with child care, since March of this year. The benefits are part of the federal CARES, or Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Through September, 692,000 of the workers who left the labor force were women. That’s 80% , according to the National Women’s Law Center.
Susan McCoy is a supervisor and case management auditing coordinator with Mountain Heart Community Services, a resource and referral agency that provides child care for working parents along with other services.
Essential workers have been reaching out to Mountain Heart in 30 counties in West Virginia since April.
“In the beginning, once the changes came down in March and April,” McCoy said, “we did see a lot of frontline workers, nurses, doctors, emergency medical services, police officers, folks of that, you know, doing those kinds of jobs who weren't eligible before.”
Since April, the agency has seen at least 30 more cases every month compared to the same time last year. In April alone, there were almost 130 more families who asked for help compared to the previous year.
“I do believe it is because the income limitations for essential workers have been waived,” McCoy said.
The stay-at-home order forced more parents to juggle child care while working from home. While essential workers such as custodians, doctors, and nurses were eligible for financial assistance, no policies existed then or now to help parents trying to stay productive at home while also taking care of their kids.
“It has been a challenge, especially when they have younger children who are not in school,” McCoy said. “And just overall income situations have been really difficult for families. You know, if you're not working, you're not making money. It's hard to pay for childcare and you know, bills that are adding up for families.”
West Virginia is a rural state, and many times, day care isn’t an option. But those who are looking for employment can start their own daycares. Through Mountain Heart, child-care providers can get trained to provide care for up to six children in their own home. An additional service of the agency helps provide resources in remote and rural parts of the state that may not have the population to support a daycare center.
Violette Burdette is a development specialist for MountainHeart Community Services.
“You don't have to go to a childcare center or facility to receive Mountain Heart (benefits),” Burdette said. “You can have an individual person that goes to the training program and takes care of your child while you're at work or at school.”
Burdette looks for funding opportunities along with sources to partner with, and to help with program development within the agency.
The solutions or resources have been in place since the War on Poverty was declared in the 1960s, and it’s helped single parents go to school or work, while someone else cared for their children.
No program is not perfect, and the pandemic has magnified these challenges. Burdette was recently one of 40 professionals across Appalachia to attend economic skills training at the Appalachian Leadership Institute. It’s part of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) fellowship program.
Burdett hopes the fellowship will reveal strategies and resources that would work for West Virginia.
“I think the whole area of jobs and economic development is very important,” Burdette said. “If we could figure out better ways to allow people to work. You know that the ways that other people do it in rural areas, even in other states or other regions outside Appalachia is through telework or telecommunications. And of course, we don't always have that, especially with, you know, the issues we have with connectivity and broadband and those types of things.”
After completing the nine-month series of online meetings, Appalachian Leadership Institute Fellows will become part of a peer-to-peer working group committed to Appalachia’s future.
The benefits are part of the federal CARES, or Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
The federal benefits that provide financial assistance to essential workers regardless of income, are expected to run out after December.