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A new report calls for more investment in a child care industry hit hard by the pandemic

Virus Outbreak Child Care
Ted S. Warren
In this May 27, 2020, photo, teachers Jana Blair, right, and Aaron Rainboth, upper-center, wear masks as they work with kids at the Frederickson KinderCare daycare center, in Tacoma, Wash. In a world weary of the coronavirus, many working parents with young children are now struggling with the decision on when or how they'll be comfortable returning to their child care providers. Frederickson KinderCare, which has been open throughout the pandemic to care for children of essential workers, removed carpets and spaced out tables and chairs as part of their measures to control the spread of the coronavirus.

COVID-19 has hit Maine's childcare workforce hard, and a new report calls on the state to ramp up support for the industry.

According to a brief released on Thursday by the nonprofit Council for a Strong America, 141 childcare providers in Maine have permanently closed since the pandemic began, and the state's childcare workforce has shrunk by nearly 20%.

At a press conference in Portland on Thursday, several legislators and business leaders said that the pandemic only highlighted longstanding issues that have affected workers and businesses in the state. Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Quincy Hentzel said the lack of childcare has forced many workers to reduce their hours or leave the workforce entirely.

"In order for Maine to recover financially from the pandemic, and continue to grow economically, it's clear we need to ensure parents in the workforce have access to high-quality, affordable childcare," Hentzel said.

Heather Marden, the policy director for the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children, said as wages in other industries have risen, many childcare staffers have moved to other sectors.

"Some of those programs closed because they could not get the staff to staff them. Some have even just closed classrooms, because they don't have the staff, and close classrooms. So we do know the workforce is playing into these closures, and this is a major piece of that," Marden said.

Marden says that workers have received support from recent federal funding, in the form of an additional $200 a month. She hopes for the passage of a bill in the Maine legislature that would continue those additional payments in the years ahead.

The bill has already been passed by one legislative committee, and Gov. Mills has included funding for the additional wages in her supplemental budget proposal.