State House working group talks child care, scams, next steps

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 10, 2020

By Liz Moomey

SALISBURY — Tara Fish, executive director of Harnett County Partnership for Children, told the N.C. House’s COVID-19 Health Care Working Group that child care providers assist the state in flattening the curve while they continue to take care of the state’s youth.

The group of state representatives, which includes Rep. Wayne Sasser, a Republican of Stanly County, had their third meeting Tuesday morning. The meeting focused on the impact of COVID-19 on child care providers, the aging population and on EMS and first responders.

Fish said providers are fearful and stressed because “they too are unsure of the outcome of both their businesses and their health at the end of the day.”

Donna White, interim president of North Carolina Partnership for Children, said child care center directors are on the front lines and have to “make to make difficult business decisions in a very uncertain environment.”

“‘Do I close temporarily or permanently?” she said. “‘Or can I remain open at even greater costs, providing emergency child care for essential workers?’ The bottom line is child care centers must absorb even higher costs and reduced income as they follow emergency mandates.”

Since the start of the North Carolina outbreak, White said, 40-50% of child care centers have closed.

She said staff can also make more with unemployment than their current salary. And many centers rely on public donors and private money from parents to keep them open, Fish said.

“Our child care facilities in our state have not hesitated on deciding to remain open to provide during this crisis,” Fish said. “Fortunately, their hearts are bigger than their bank account balances. Many of them are reporting cash flow issues.”

Jennifer Simpson, executive director of Blue Ridge Partnership for Children, said there is also a personal risk of caring for children during the pandemic because they may bring the virus home to their families at the end of the day.

White, Fish and Simpson said the child care industry needs $125 million to supplement it as part of a state COVID-19 package.

Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-75, recommended White to return to the working group with details of how that money would be spent.

“Our task is very difficult,” Lambeth said. “The state estimates for revenue losses is in the ‘jillions.’ We’re trying to figure out how we can help support you.”

During the same meeting, Mary Bethel, a board member of the N.C. Coalition on Aging, listed some concerns the organization had about caring for the elderly during the COVID-19 outbreak. She said scams and fraudulent activities are targeting older adults. Many are anxious about the virus and are increasingly isolated, making them more vulnerable, Bethel said.

The coalition, she said, is particularly concerned about the amount of self-isolation, especially as senior centers have closed. They are also worried about the low supply of personal protective equipment. Tracy Colvard, the board’s chairman, gave 14 recommendations to the working group of how to support older adults. Some included identifying ways to support older adults through short-term financial assistance, quicken the process of getting funding to the local level, ensuring staff has protective equipment and implementing measures to combat frauds and scams targeting the elderly.

Co-Chair of the working group Rep. Perrin Jones, R-9, said they needed to begin taking steps to manage COVID-19 long term.

“The way forward for us to really start to manage this disease as opposed to it having manage us is to be able to get appropriate protective equipment as well as adequate amount of testing for people,” Jones said.