Some of the children of Heavenly Hall Day Care center know their ABCs. Others choose to defer the alphabet to focus on the basic motor skills needed to connect food to fork, fork to mouth. The play area, a messy toy-land of kitchen sets and building blocks, bursts with the high energy of young children impatiently waiting to sing along to the stereo in the corner. By any observation, the center, located just south of Girard Avenue in Mantua, is a pleasant and relaxed business in an area stung by the current economic climate.
Most children within the neighborhood receive subsidized child care from the state. Programs like Child Care Works (CCW) set guidelines for low-income families and single mothers to qualify for state aid, and regularly assist 130,000 Pennsylvanians. Without a budget, these state-funded programs could not dole out payments to the child-care providers, leaving many businesses looking for alternative sources of funding.
“We’ve been trying to find funding from donations and working with our bank to make sure we can still remain in business,” said Joseph Stafford, the director of Heavenly Hall Day Care.
Other care-givers in the area faced similar, if less severe, problems. “We’re not a small independent day care, so we could take care of ourselves. We weren’t forced to lay off employees. We just had to tighten our belts,” said Crystal Singleton, the assistant director of Montgomery Early Learning Center.
Montgomery Early Learning Center operates within a larger company located in the suburbs and has spent the past three months making general cuts to basic office supplies and submitting orders less frequently.
Many daycares are not as fortunate. Five in Philadelphia have already shut down, and many more have seen staff cuts in order to save funds and continue child care services. Heavenly Hall laid off five employees and now has 13 full-time care-givers. Many parents volunteer their time on days off to keep the center open.
“If time comes when we can’t make payroll, it’s time to close the doors. I’ve known some that have had to close, and I’m hoping that won’t be us,” said Stafford.
“As a parent, I’m concerned about daycares not being paid. If I can’t leave my children, I can’t go to work. I can’t pay the bills,” said Verdette Clark, a grandparent who volunteers 20 hours a week at Heavenly Hall in order to make sure her grandkids stay in school.
Child-care services affect more than just the children enrolled. With many local residents in single-parent households, daycare is the only option for retaining a job. Without a place for their children to go during the day, many people face the prospect of losing their jobs and going on welfare.
The community of Parkside falls within the city’s Fourth District, which City Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. was elected to serve two years ago. Jones was one of the many local politicians who took an active stand on the way state lawmakers handled the budget. The councilman believes that quality daycare centers are essential in the area.
“Daycare is not just a social service, it is a critical component of economic development. Convenient, clean, safe, affordable daycare is the link to the success of middle-income communities,” said Councilman Jones. “Affordable daycare allows financial independence.”
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Although the Councilman is pleased that the budget was finally signed, he thinks the agreement may have been too little, too late.
“We’re glad that they took some action 101 days into the year,” said Councilman Jones. “However, individuals lost their jobs. Small daycare centers closed, while larger ones with an expense capacity had to take out expensive loans in order to keep their doors open.”
The new state budget, available to the public from the Pennsylvania Office of the Budget, allocates $225 million to child-care welfare and an additional $122 million for child-care services. The education portion of the budget actually increased $300 million to $5.5 billion across the state.
Yet daycare centers are still feeling the pinch. Checks are currently being mailed out for the month of July, with more expected in the coming weeks.
The centers in Mantua, as well as the rest of the state, hope to make up the funds soon and put their businesses back on track for the coming fiscal year.
Singleton urges the state to not take the issue lightly in the future. “Take child care seriously. This isn’t just babysitting.”