Commentary

You betcha child care workers were essential — so pay them the hazard pay they deserve | Opinion

Legislature — and especially Senate GOP — should finally make good on a promise

April 27, 2022 8:45 am

Children at Bright Future Child Care in Brooklyn Center. Courtesy photo.

In March 2020, the whole world shut down. We had barely heard the word “COVID-19.” We didn’t know what would happen next. We just knew that it was scary, and deadly. 

Schools closed and most people began working from home if they could. 

Around 667,000 Minnesotans did not have that option: We were deemed “essential workers.” 

The term “essential workers” has been thrown around a lot in the past two years, and many people don’t realize that we were actually defined as “essential” by the federal government. 

The state of Minnesota chose to follow that specific guidance when determining which services were essential, which is why it is all the more perplexing that some members of the Minnesota Legislature only want to include a small portion of essential workers when giving out frontline hazard pay. 

Most people think of health care workers first when they think of essential workers. Many people don’t realize that child care was one of those essential services. We were required to stay open to provide care for the children of essential workers. 

For me, that kept keeping my in-home child care open and risking not only my own health, but the health of my family members. There was no way we could protect ourselves from exposure. 

As a family child care provider in Minnesota, I care for 12 children. I am with those children 10 hours a day. I work at least 70 hours a week between directly caring for kids, and everything that goes along with running a high-quality in-home child care. 

The families that are drawn to family child care are often essential workers and people of color. People of color were some of the first to be laid off — and then hit the hardest with COVID-19, which left them unable to afford to keep their kids in my care. 

This led to the worst possible situation for me. I dropped from 12 children to four children in April and May of 2020. I was required to stay open, still working 10 hours a day, but I lost over half of my income. 

In the spring of 2021, the Minnesota Legislature agreed to set aside $250 million to give to essential workers, to thank them for their work during the height of the pandemic. They then created a Frontline Worker Pay Working Group to figure out how to distribute the money. 

Here we are a year later, and not one essential worker has seen a penny. The short story is the disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over who exactly is or was “essential.” 

Republicans want a limited number of people to be eligible. Democrats want every essential worker to be eligible. This should not be hard. We already know who was — and continues to be — essential. The federal government has a specific list. Minnesota followed this specific list. Let’s use the list. 

In February, the Minnesota House passed the Frontline Worker Pay Bill which gives $1,500 to every essential worker who was working during the shutdown. It uses $1 billion of the $9.3 billion surplus to make sure every essential worker is rewarded with a meaningful thank you, particularly for the vast majority of essential workers who are in lower paying jobs — like child care. 

Republicans have long argued that we cannot include everyone because $250 million wasn’t enough money to give everyone a meaningful amount. But that argument doesn’t hold up when we have an unprecedented $9.3 billion surplus.

The Republican-led Senate hasn’t even taken up the House bill. They have said repeatedly that the surplus is “other people’s money” and not theirs to spend. The surplus comes from increased incomes and corporate profits during the pandemic. Incomes rose and corporate profits increased during the pandemic because essential workers kept the state running. If the Senate chooses to do nothing, the thanks we get will be $0. 

Providing care during one of the scariest times in our recent history was an honor and allowed me to support my community in a very essential way. 

Being a part of a bigger picture, as a child care provider, is very rewarding. Child care providers have always been essential and showed up in a very specific way when we were needed at the beginning and throughout the entirety of the pandemic. 

We, and every Minnesotan who continues to be essential every day, deserve to be treated as essential, and deserves for the Senate to pass the House bill and finally give us the thanks we have more than earned.

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