OKLAHOMA CITY (KFDX/KJTL)– On Wednesday State Rep. Lundy Kiger called on the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to relax some of the rules and regulations stemming from the federal government for Oklahoma daycares and to properly fund the child-care centers.
Kiger expressed appreciation for the dedication of daycare operators and the members of DHS who love and care for each child being served, but he also expressed frustration for many of the rules and regulations stemming from the federal government that have now become obstacles to many daycare owners.
Kiger was joined in his opinions by State Rep. Randy Randleman.
“Rules and regulations from the federal government flowing down to the state, then to daycare operators, are designed for maximum benefit from each dollar in providing fairly for each of our children,” Kiger said. “During the pandemic, and from the governor’s orders we’re now under, many of these rules and regulations have now become obstacles that many daycare business owners cannot meet and remain open for business.”
Kiger said many of the rules, including daily subsidy pay and absentee pay per child, have made it nearly impossible for all daycare operators, including subsidy pay and private pay centers, to care for and feed the children in their care. The problem, he said, is that many children enrolled in daycares are being kept at home because parents have lost their jobs. This is putting many daycare businesses in jeopardy of bankruptcy and possible closure because when the kids aren’t there, daycares don’t get paid.
Another problem that daycare businesses are facing is trying to buy food that meets regulations. When a daycare operator can’t readily find milk and meats on the shelves of stores, they are forced to pay twice the amount in just trying to meet meal requirements.
Kiger said from discussions he’s had with daycare owners and watching many on video explaining their situation, their concerns and complaints are legitimate, but they feel they are not being heard by the state.
Kiger said he spoke to DHS Director Justin Brown this morning about daycare needs and concerns, and the director committed total support from DHS and confirmed that communications are open with all legislators and daycare leaders representing these businesses.
Brown also told Kiger that 7A loans through the Small Business Administration are available to these businesses and are forgivable. He said daycares should take advantage of filing for these funds. Kiger and Brown also discussed the new money that just arrived to the state in the federal stimulus package that is another option for daycares and other service businesses in the state.
Kiger told Brown there’s a real difference between what’s happening in Oklahoma City at DHS compared to what’s happening on the ground for daycares and their perceptions and needs. Kiger committed to Brown that he would work together with him and daycare operators in getting through this difficult time, but in the end he said DHS must review what’s happening to these businesses during this pandemic and consider real changes for the good of Oklahoma children and their parents.
Kiger said he’s optimistic that Brown, who also serves as state secretary of Human Services and Early Childhood Initiatives, and the state recognizes the difficult times many in this business are going through and will take swift action.
Kiger said he also was on a call on Tuesday night in which U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin told daycare owners that the federal government funded the state $50 million that is available to help Oklahoma daycare facilities. Mullin said he will contact state officials today to push for help for daycares that are so important to the state.
“While many Oklahoma businesses have closed and sent their employees home to keep them safe, daycare operators are open for business and taking care of the children for our front-line workers,” Kiger said. “At the same time, as many of our dedicated daycares are taking great risks for inadequate pay, and many are losing daily attendance which is affecting their business’ bottom line.
“There needs to be a reevaluation and reconsideration of revamping many of these rules, regulations and more importantly how daycares are paid per child,” Kiger said. “We need to make sure that after this pandemic is over our parents have a place to take their children.”
Kiger is asking DHS to consider giving daycares that receive subsidy pay or private pay payment for all children enrolled.
“As a state depending on private individuals to invest, educate and care for our kids, we cannot cut daycare pay for enrollees whose parents are no longer able to send their children to daycare and expect these businesses to be open and a spot reserved for their children when these parents go back to work,” Kiger said. “Over the past year, Oklahoma has lost over 500 daycare facilities, and now even more are in jeopardy of closing.
“This is not the fault of the daycare operator, and they should not be penalized during this pandemic for what is happening while parents are under orders not to go to work,” Kiger said.
DHS is providing three days of extra pay and just authorized $5 more per child enrolled per day. But Kiger said to him the $5 per day will be viewed as the retired teachers saw the one-time stipend paid last year, as a slap in the face instead of a real Cost of Living Adjustment or real pay increase.
“If you talk to daycare operators, they will tell you after reductions are made from chronic absenteeism, owners are not seeing enough of a difference in their bottom line to keep many of them from closing,” Kiger said.
“The state and nation need to recognize the financial issues that absenteeism is causing many business owners during this time and should consider allowing daycare operators during this pandemic to do as many of the Tribes are doing for their children. The Tribes get what is happening to these businesses and many are paying daycare fees for children absent to help keep businesses open.
“DHS promotes to parents that if you don’t go to work then don’t take your child to daycare. Many of these parents would take their children to daycare but worry about the virus and that it might not be safe,” Kiger said.
“As a state we need to work for parents in finding a balance between keeping kids safe and keeping kids at home when they don’t work. But no one is working so it makes sense in keeping our daycares solvent by at least allowing daycares to be paid for all children enrolled.”
Kiger said that because of the pandemic and people hoarding food, many daycares in his district couldn’t find the right food or enough food or adequate learning supplies. After receiving calls from his daycare owners about these issues, he visited all stores in his hometown and was able to work with managers to find a time and a way for daycare operators to get the foods and products they desperately need in trying to meet all requirements.
Regardless of the rules, Kiger said, if a daycare owner can’t find whole milk and the stores only have 2% milk on the shelf, common sense should dictate that they be allowed to purchase the 2% milk and get the kids fed. The same issues are happening with meat products, he said. Daycares are having to pay a premium in meeting regulations that directly hits their bottom line.
“I’m asking DHS to put themselves in the shoes of our daycare owners and walk into their world to get a better understanding of their ‘real world’ issues because of the pandemic and see what daycare providers are really going through,” Kiger said.
“I would also ask DHS to consider putting together a task force on pay and other aspects of the business that could help Oklahoma to become Top 10 in daycare,” Kiger said. “But the only way a task force could be successful is to put some of our dedicated daycare owners on the task force and hear their real needs.”