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An Imperfect Storm: Restoring Essential Child Care Services in Hurricane Florence’s Wake

A little girl in a pink raincoat and boots rides a push bike through a puddle.

As Hurricane Florence, a major storm, takes aim at the Carolinas, residents are evacuating from coastal areas and bracing for days of high winds and heavy rain inland. When schools close across the region to prepare to shelter evacuees, child care providers will also close their doors, leaving some to wonder if they will be able to reopen after Hurricane Florence dissipates.

For families in the storm’s path, child care represents an essential social service that will be critical in the weeks ahead to ensure stability and enable the recovery process. While many school-age children are likely to return to school within a month, communities impacted by Hurricane Florence will face a range of challenges to long-term recovery, including delays in openings for child care providers.

Under both the National Response Framework and the National Disaster Recovery Framework, child care represents a core capability of the response and recovery. Residents, schools, and government agencies are eligible for public assistance and reimbursements, but there is no emergency assistance available to private, for-profit child care providers under existing policy.

Unlike private nonprofit organizations, child care providers typically operate as for-profit business entities and therefore do not qualify for assistance under the Stafford Act. Providers must join the queue (without priority status) to apply for disaster loans through the Small Business Administration, the agency tasked with supporting businesses in the wake of disasters. After completing the daunting application process, providers may find that they do not qualify for loans, due to lack of collateral, credit history, and/or tight margins.

As a result, care providers must fall back to their individual insurance coverage and potentially lengthy claims process to help them recover and reopen. This represents a significant gap in federal and state policies for what is deemed a “core capability” for communities and essential to the response and recovery process.

For families and neighbors to recover post-disaster, child care represents a critical support service that should be addressed and prioritized as such, similar to schools and health care facilities, following major disasters. Funding opportunities, such as the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act highlight the “need for safe child care, for the period before, during, and after a state of emergency declared by the Governor or a major disaster or emergency,” but stop short of addressing or allocating funds to enable and ensure "the continuation of child care services in the period following the emergency or disaster.”

In 2017, Hurricane Harvey affected more than 4,000 child care providers. More than 650 of those were damaged or destroyed, according to Save the Children. One year later, 50 of those providers have permanently closed their doors. After Hurricane Sandy, 697 child care providers were forced to close for anywhere from one to eight months. As Hurricane Florence targets the coast, the storm will threaten more than 1,710 child care providers in North Carolina under forecast advisories (as of 5 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11), a number likely to grow in the days ahead. Hurricane Florence will cut through some of the state’s most socially and economically vulnerable populations who will bear the brunt of the storm.

After a disaster, restoration of routine services supports and sustains the developmental and psychological needs of children. As the region begins its journey toward recovery, childcare services will need to be prioritized to assist single-parent households, families living below the poverty line, and those living with disability to address immediate recovery needs and return to work sooner.

A critical need exists to improve existing state and federal policies to address and close gaps in available funding support, as well as strengthen existing technical assistance to help providers to prepare ahead of an event and navigate access and utilization post-event to successful improve continuity of services. To support the recovery process and promote resilience, childcare should be recognized as an essential service in recovery through more inclusive policy and programs.