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Melonie Pichon plays with children she cares for at Giggles Child Development Center which is still open during the coronavirus shut-down because they tend to children of parents with essential jobs in New Orleans, La. Thursday, April 2, 2020.

Losses for Louisiana day care operators because of the coronavirus pandemic have more than tripled since May and now total $100 million, the leader of an advocacy group said Thursday.

Two months ago officials said revenue dips had reached $30 million, mostly because of plummeting attendance as more moms and dads worked from home, or are unemployed.

Libbie Sonnier, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, said one of the key problems is fewer children are attending the state's 1,400 publicly licensed centers.

"They cannot get kids in the door because we cannot get a handle on the pandemic," Sonnier said.

"And people are just worried about the virus," she said. "We truly don't know the true effect on young children."

Earlier this year the state Department of Education said only 31% of the centers remained open, including 200 closed in the Baton Rouge area.

Those closures affected about 83,000 children, and operators said they needed an average of about $23,000 to reopen.

Officials said recently that those figures have since reversed, with 70% open and 30% closed.

But Sonnier said there are cases of centers with a capacity of 200 children having only 50 in attendance.

She said an operator in New Orleans with a center that can care for 100 children reported having only 18 at the site.

Some centers reopened in hopes that the state would move to Phase 3 for the reopening of its economy, which would loosen restrictions on gatherings and other activities.

However, the state remains in Phase 2, which means stricter rules, because of a resurgence of the virus across the state.

"The financial viability is hard," Sonnier said. "There is some thought that the centers that reopened may have to close again because they just can't afford it."

A check of operators in June produced some grim findings.

"We will be releasing results from our most recent survey in August but the preliminary results are troubling," Sonnier said in am email to "partners and friends" that was delivered Thursday.

"Early care and education providers continue to lose money and their financial prospects remain uncertain," according to the update.

Sonnier said that, sparked by the results of the survey, officials of the state Department of Education sent out $11 million in grants, which stem from federal aid approved by Congress.

Those dollars can help operators with rent, utilities, employee salaries and cleaning costs.

A separate survey that included 94 operators show that 54% said they will close permanently without more public aid, 87% are serving fewer children than before the pandemic and enrollment is down by an average of 55%.

It said 61% of those responding had used furloughs, pay cuts or layoffs because of the pandemic.

That survey was done by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Child care leaders here have tried to boost the urgency of their message by noting the links between the centers and workers who rely on care for their children while they work.

Top officials of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Greater New Orleans Inc. and others have rallied on behalf of efforts to find aid for child care centers.

Another challenge is the fact that employees of the centers are paid an average of $8.95 per hour

 


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.