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Health workers report childcare as a top pressing issue

Childcare is the most pressing issue next to access to personal protective equipment like masks, says Matt Yarnell the president of the state’s largest union representing health care workers.

Service Employees International Union represents nearly 45,000 nurses, professionals and technical employees who Yarnell said are looking for long-term solutions to their child care needs.

“Many people’s back up care plan — give the kids to grandma and grandpa — seems unwise in this moment. By and large employers have not been able to offer assistance and have mainly advised workers to try and help one another out, though the union has worked with hospitals and nursing homes to relax attendance policies and be understanding when caregivers are late or have scheduling challenges due to childcare problems,” he said in an emailed statement.

All childcare centers outside of the home setting were ordered to close last week. But they can still apply for waivers if they take care of children of essential staff like health care workers and first responders.

The union is working to find solutions like expanding in-home providers and schools, though he said, “even the best of those solutions can create opportunities for the disease to spread and involve risk for children, their families and childcare providers themselves.”

On Monday, schools were also ordered to shutdown statewide through at least April 6.

Tiffini Simineaux is the education and youth manager for the office of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. She said she’s concerned that some of those centers won’t reopen because they operate on slim margins. Many don’t have reserves to fall back on while closed for weeks.

“So I think that will be one of the biggest challenges, trying to connect those businesses either with small business loans or grants. And still you know a lot of facilities are currently paying their staff but there is going to be a really big challenge when things do clear up and they are able to legally open again.”

Simineaux said the city is already battling a childcare shortage. Many centers have had months if not years-long waitlists for infants and toddlers.

Heather Arnet, CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation, said she will continue to advocate for paid leave when the childcare centers are closed.

“We are really concerned that a lot of workers and families are going to be really struggling to try to figure out how can they take care of their families at home and hold on to their jobs,” she said. “We’re getting lots of messages from community leaders that it’s important for folks to stay home for their own safety and for public health, and that’s important, but folks also need to be economically healthy and be able to pay their bills.”

Other states like California and New York have long-term paid family leave solutions. Arnet said it’s important for the state legislature to pass a similar measure to “weather the next storm.”

The Women and Girls Foundation supports the Pennsylvania Family Care Act sponsored by Erie State Senator Dan Laughlin. The act would establish a state insurance fund so that employers wouldn’t be responsible for paying employee salaries when they have to take time off to care for others.

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