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Parents balancing work, kids struggle as Maine child care providers are hit hard by pandemic

State officials say 80 percent of child care facilities are now open, but a recent survey by Maine AEYC says most providers are only at 60 percent capacity.

MAINE, USA — Like so many parents, Corri Gardner has been juggling her full-time job, Zoom meetings, and the occasional screaming toddler for months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's been a whirlwind," she said. "Your new productive hours are from like 1-3 because everyone knows its nap time. It's like the busiest block in your day now because everyone is like, 'Go! Go! Go! it's nap time.'"

Gardner and her husband Nate are both raising their two-year-old son while working from home. Like many parents in the state, they are struggling to find child care again. 

RELATED: Keep ME Open: Daycare fights to stay in business, keep kids safe even as state eases COVID-19 restrictions

"We don't have child care anymore. Our day care actually opened up this week with very limited capacity. It was first come first serve," Gardner said. 

80 percent of child care facilities in the state are now open, according to Maine's Office of Child and family services. 

A spokesperson said no outbreaks, meaning three or more positive cases, have been reported at any child care facility statewide. 

But a recent survey by the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children found most providers are only at about 60 percent capacity.

"We're all small businesses. We're struggling," Terri Crocker, owner of Creative Play Child Care in Bath told NEWS CENTER Maine. 

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Crocker is currently at about 40 percent capacity. She said while many facilities are unable to be at full capacity due to things like staffing shortages and space restrictions, many of her families are not ready to send their kids back.

Fewer kids mean less money coming in. 

"I didn't do PPP. I didn't do loans," she said. "My assistant director, I can't afford to bring her back. I have 14 kids. I can't pay her salary." 

On top of that, Crocker and others have additional expenses for products required to routinely sanitize surfaces and perform temperature checks. 

"It's very different than public schools. This is not a tax-funded system," Tara Williams, the Executive Director of Maine AEYC said. "So if families are unable to pay, choosing not to go, losing jobs themselves, it decimates that child care system."

RELATED: Maine DHHS awards CARES Act funding to support essential workers, child care providers in response to COVID-19

The Maine AEYC survey of also found Maine Child Care providers have already lost more than $14 million, even with state and federal aide. Williams said she expects the system to lose millions more in the coming months. 

"I feel for them. I'm frustrated by the situation that everybody's in and how many people are struggling," she said. "I think it's going to be really challenging in the coming months, even the coming year in Maine, to figure out what are the best solutions to have families back at work and children in child care."

For parents like Garnder, they are taking it day by day. She said she is fortunate to be able to keep working. 

"Overall we're certainly working through it like we all are," she said. "But it's different and every day is a new challenge."

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