Sharing a letter send to Governor Hogan’s office this morning and state representatives this afternoon from Lavonne Taylor, Owner/Director Forest Hill Nature Preschool & Childcare:
April 20, 2020
I am contacting you today as a childcare provider on the front lines of the current crisis who is in immediate peril. I am the owner of Forest Hill Nature Preschool & Childcare currently serving 40 students who are children of essential personnel through the Essential Personnel Child Care system. My school has been in operation since 2013 and during normal operations, we serve 240 children and their families ages infant to school age between two buildings.
When the current Covid-19 crisis began I took swift measures to implement additional cleaning protocols, to follow the many and sometimes conflicting directives sent out by MSDE and the Licensing office, and to follow guidelines for continuing to provide child care sent out by your office as well. With an understanding for how this crisis would affect our many families, we offered to waive contracted tuition payments for any families wishing to stay home even before the shelter-in-place directive. Decreased enrollment and income made it necessary for us to furlough almost half of our staff, many of whom are currently collecting unemployment benefits.
We followed all procedures for implementing the new Essential Personnel Child Care when it began on March 30, have collected all requested documentation and have followed instructions to submit the invoice for payment of tuition by the state on April 10 for the first two weeks of care. Last week on Friday, 4/17 MSDE sent out a video with instructions for completing the invoice for payment (the invoice that I and most EPCC providers completed on 4/10). The video instructs providers to call if they have not received an email confirming receipt of their submitted invoice within 48 hours. Since I never received an email confirmation I called today, 4/20 to check to make sure my invoice was received and was told that the invoice hasn’t been logged in the system. I was asked to wait another 48 hours to check again to see if the invoice has been received, and it was explained to me that MSDE expects it will take 10-14 business days after the invoice is processed for me to receive payment on the invoice.
I am a small business owner. I am paying the staff and expenses to care for the children of essential personnel. Payroll and operating expenses cannot be deferred an additional month while I wait for tuition income to arrive. I understand that MSDE is clearly overwhelmed with trying to implement this new system, but I do not understand how it can be acceptable for the state to ask providers to care for children, prohibit us from charging tuition up front, and then delay payments for tuition by weeks at a time. I strongly encourage your administration to recognize the perilous predicament that currently exists for all child care providers, but particularly for the ones who have remained open and taken extra measures to respond to the current crisis so that essential personnel employees in our state can handle the necessary tasks to bring us through the crisis.
Childcare is not an extra luxury, it is a necessity if parents are going to be able to work. We need immediate action in the form of financial relief from the state so that our programs can stay open.
Last week I exhausted the remaining funds I had saved and had to advance funds from a credit card account in order to pay the teachers who have been watching children in our care. Although I applied for both the EIDL and PPP loan programs two weeks ago, I haven’t heard back from either, likely because of the tremendous need for financial assistance for all small businesses at this time. To continue to stay open, I will need to borrow money, likely from a higher interest rate personal loan since small business financing is delayed, just to continue to pay the teachers and to pay our operating expenses while I wait for the first tuition payment from the state. We are already deferring our rent, we are already deferring payments for any nonessential items. Putting child care providers into a situation in which they must rack up high interest debt in order to front the money to watch the children who need care is not a system that respects its child care community and unfortunately many providers will not make it through the current crisis and continue to be viable as businesses.
As a governor who respects both the role of small business in our state and the role of childcare in the current crisis situation, I urge you to take immediate action to provide additional assistance to the childcare community. I also urge you to look into any measures that can be taken to assist with the processing of payments for Essential Personnel Child Care facilities. I know that I am not alone in this situation and that many providers now see it as a mistake to have remained open to provide care to essential personnel. For me I am hoping that doing the right thing at this time of crisis doesn’t end up costing me my business.
Owner/Director Forest Hill Nature Preschool & Childcare