I Run a 24-Hour Daycare. Biden Called Us ‘Essential Workers.’ Where’s the Money He Promised Us?
Deloris “Nunu” Hogan runs Dee’s Tots, a 24-hour daycare in New Rochelle, NY, and is a subject of the new doc “Through the Night.” She has an urgent message for President Biden.
I started Dee’s Tots, a 24-hour home-based daycare facility that provides childcare here in New Rochelle, a city in Westchester, New York. We started in the basement apartment when I was really young and built it up to a house. I’ve been providing childcare for over 40 years.
When the pandemic started, everything was unpredictable. We were called “essential workers,” offered PPP, and still had to sacrifice our savings to keep our team together. Some of them have been with me here for decades. That was the first crack in the veneer. What’s the point of being essential if you’ll still get left behind? Before the pandemic, we had over 34 families; now we’re down to half. A lot of parents lost their jobs, so children stopped coming to daycare. We got new parents who came to us because they were deemed essential workers, too: nurses, grocery workers, waiters and servers, and more—people who still had to step out there in the face of this virus and go to work, so we stayed open for them. It was the scariest situation that I have ever dealt with in my life.
Most of our clients are working families who depend on daycare vouchers and during the pandemic, there were additional childcare subsidies. Many of them work multiple jobs to support their families. As of Aug. 1, the temporary provisions for childcare providers, parents, and essential workers expire—even though it will probably take a few years to recover. Parents are making hard decisions in order to keep their kids in childcare.
One of my mothers had to take on three jobs to keep her family afloat. Her income puts her over the $47,000 cap to qualify for childcare vouchers, but isn’t enough to cover the out-of-pocket costs of daycare. If she reduces her hours, she might qualify, but how does she choose between childcare or her bills? These are the tough, gut-wrenching conversations I am having with my parents. No matter how you look at it, the situation is terrible.
I still go to bed worrying because I don’t know what’s going to happen the next day. Pandemic or not, childcare providers are always essential workers. Your children come to us even before they start school. We’re with them for all the in-betweens. By the time they get to school, they know their ABCs. They know colors. They’ve started reading because most daycare providers teach with activities.
We’re not babysitters. We are licensed professionals and go through constant training. We are trained in CPR, first aid, shaken baby syndrome, brain engagement, obesity, and early childhood communication. We have to get certificates and learn how to report information to the state so that everything is in order when the licensor comes in. We have to do fire drills, evacuations, and shelter-in-place drills because of the increase in school shootings. And yet, many of us don’t earn a living wage that can cover our basic needs.
When I first heard President Biden say all this money was coming to daycares through the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, I was very excited. We were told the $2.4 billion for New York State was set aside for childcare, but we haven’t seen anything yet. Reopening is on everyone’s mind but the immediate needs of childcare facilities and parents like ours—essential workers who worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic—are not being met. It’s to the point where we’ve had to crowdfund and call on our community to help keep the children of struggling parents in daycare because we completely depleted our own life savings waiting on our government to step up for the kids. We know we aren’t the only ones in this position.
How’s America going to go back to work if people don’t have a place to send their children?
Childcare providers and other essential workers were asked to go out there and risk our lives to keep the economy going, but we continue to be left behind. A politician can’t dictate to us what we need when they’re not a provider. They can’t dictate what a parent working three or four jobs needs when they haven’t walked in their shoes. If we could sit at the table to work with legislators, we wouldn’t be in this situation struggling; they could actually be of service to our communities. It’s easy to call our children the future, but what value do we place on that future when we undervalue the people who care for our children? We are demanding a seat at the table.
We hold on to hope. And while hope is a wonderful thing to hold on to, you can’t eat hope. You can’t drink hope. Hope doesn’t pay the bills. The children are our Future World Changers. We need to invest in them.
Deloris “Nunu” Hogan is co-founder and primary care provider at Dee’s Tots Daycare in New Rochelle, NY. She is one of the subjects of filmmaker Loira Limbal’s documentary Through the Night, which premiered on PBS and is available to stream on Amazon.