Negotiations continue on relief bill as child care providers wait longer for needed aid

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Lawmakers in the North Carolina General Assembly on Friday continued negotiations on a coronavirus relief package worth billions of dollars, but each day without a vote is another day waiting for a struggling public already suffering and growing impatient.

"If they truly understand, and they truly want to get this economy to come back on track, we need to provide essential funding for child care providers and teachers so we can keep pushing," Cassandra Brooks, owner of the Little Believers Academy, told ABC11. "We need our North Carolina legislators to step up and help the backbone to this economy."

Indeed, the child care industry was already struggling; an earlier I-Team investigation found a dramatic decline in the number of licensed care centers since 2005 (Brooks' work as a provider was also featured in that report).

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Providers, already limited by strict teacher-child ratios and safety regulations, are trying to remain open to help essential workers with children but at less capacity and less income.

"These parents have to work," Brooks said, and she noted that her locations in Garner and Clayton have served children of firefighters, nurses, corrections officers and grocery cashiers. "They have to have a quality affordable option and work and try to keep this economy moving, so it's important we don't stop."

Though the House and Senate relief packages differed on the amount of money proposed, they both prioritized child care among other needs for appropriating billions of dollars coming from the federal government. The Senate plan, specifically, earmarked $118 million.

Brooks said that money will be welcome, but it won't cover everything.

Michele Rivest, Executive Director of the North Carolina Early Childhood Education Coalition, echoes that sentiment.

"We just think it's going to be a crisis for childcare to reopen," Rivest told ABC11. "The state needs to provide significant funding because without it, it just won't come back, and then we'll have a shortage of childcare for North Carolina's working families and that will impact our economic recovery."

Rivest estimated that about half of North Carolina's approximately 6,000 childcare centers have closed amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

"When North Carolina goes back to work, it won't be possible for our economy to recover without childcare programs," she said.

The House and Senate are both scheduled to gavel in on Saturday morning, and if there is an agreement between the two chambers, votes could happen soon after.

The CARES Act, passed by Congress in March, appropriated close to $4 billion to North Carolina, meaning the General Assembly will be back soon to work on more relief bills.
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