by Mike Feeken | Business Engagement Associate
As the coronavirus pandemic brings our hometowns to a near standstill, one thing is clear: child care remains necessary to keep Nebraska’s communities and economy working. Child care providers across the state are crucial, especially for parents who work as emergency response services, law enforcement, grocery, retail and other essential areas during this crisis.
Economic development organizations are in a unique position to respond directly and locally to the emergency needs of our hometown businesses. They have a powerful reason to make sure the needs of home- and center-based child care providers are not overlooked.
Even before the COVID-19 emergency, 84% of Nebraska counties existed in child care deserts, with insufficient openings to meet the needs of working parents with young children. After the onset of pandemic-related business shutdowns, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute conducted a statewide survey in which fewer than 25% of Nebraska child care providers said their programs could survive a closure of two or three weeks. That percentage approaches zero if providers are forced to close for a month or more. If we don’t act soon to help sustain these crucial programs, we will emerge from the current public health crisis with even fewer child care options for the working parents we will need to rebuild our state and local economies.
Recently, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and Nebraska Early Childhood Collaborative announced they were accepting applications for emergency relief grants from child care programs in selected locations across the state. The overwhelming response to this offer sent a clear message that providers need direct financial assistance to purchase cleaning supplies and consumables like diapers, formula and toilet paper. We urge economic developers to think outside the box and consider strategies and programs to support their local child care businesses.
How economic development groups can help:
- Some communities like Hebron in Thayer County are using LB840 Local Option Municipal Economic Development funds to provide financial lifelines to local businesses affected by the pandemic. If your community has an LB840 program, stay within the boundaries of your program guidelines, but recognize that child care providers are businesses and may be eligible for direct financial assistance. Business retention is an eligible activity under the majority of LB840 plans throughout the state.
- Be an advocate for your child care providers and talk with local grocery stores, retail food and convenience stores. Ask about steps they can take to allow flexibility, like eliminating purchasing limits for items providers need to run their businesses such as cleaning and sanitizing supplies, milk, diapers and formula.
- Reach out on behalf of providers to service clubs and nonprofit organizations and urge them to partner with providers to help access supplies, financial assistance or other community supports.
As our Nebraska hometowns continue to navigate this pandemic, we must do our best to ensure that local businesses remain stable and viable. Your community’s ability to cultivate, attract and retain businesses–and the working parents those businesses need–will depend in large part on the strength of your local child care infrastructure. Without it, Nebraska communities simply can’t work.