Minnesota And Vermont Doing Universal Childcare (For Hero Grocery Store Workers)
Minnesota and Vermont have both added grocery store workers to their lists of essential or emergency workers, making them eligible for free childcare during the coronavirus outbreak. In an executive order Sunday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz ordered the state's public schools, which are closed otherwise, to provide free childcare for the state's emergency workers and an update sent Tuesday added grocery store staff to the essential workers eligible for the free childcare, because you gotta keep people fed. And in Vermont, the state also added grocery workers and others in the food supply chain to the list of those eligible for free childcare.
Now all we need is for universal childcare to become the norm for everyone, not just during emergencies.
The executive order in Minnesota "directed schools to provide care to, at a minimum, district-enrolled students aged 12 and under," and Tuesday's directive clarified exactly who qualifies. The top tier includes the categories you'd expect: police and fire, hospital and nursing home staff, public health workers, and all the administrative folks needed to keep the social safety net up and running too. Grocery store employees of all sorts are listed as "Essential Tier 2 Workers," which also includes workers needed to keep the utilities and other public works running, along with people in the food supply network. Not just in grocery stores, but also folks in "distribution centers," like forklift operators, drivers, and mechanics. Beyond that, the child care employees who are looking after the kids of all those essential workers are themselves classified as essential.
The Minnesota Grocers Association thanked Walz for recognizing that the people keeping us fed are essential right about now:
Michael Schirling, Vermont's Public Safety commissioner, told the Vermont Digger Wednesday that his office was working to identify all categories of workers whose services are considered essential for getting the state through the crisis. Can we just say that "Vermont Digger" is a hell of a fine name for a news service?
Schirling said that grocery store workers, as well as others involved in the food supply chain, are considered essential people, adding that this list of professions would be updated in the day ahead.
And in case you wondered, as we did, how the state is planning to provide that daycare safely in a time when all the other children are supposed to be staying at home, the Digger also notes that
Schools will become physical day care centers only for children 6 and over, with no more than 10 children in a classroom at one time. The Vermont-NEA had previously expressed concern about exposing its members to unsafe situations under the administration's plan.
In addition, Vermont is working out the details for contracting with private daycares to care for kids aged five and under. In response to worries from educators, the state education secretary, Dan French, initially said Wednesday that teachers with underlying health risks — or family members who might be at risk — would be exempted from working during the shutdowns. Yesterday, the Digger reported that Gov. Phil Scott's administration says teachers and staff worried about their health can stay home, which is now leading to worries that there won't be enough teachers and staff to provide childcare and other services the schools are still providing. Let's hope so?
What impresses us is the range of things Vermont schools (and yes, school districts all over) are doing to ensure kids continue getting essential services they usually get at school:
On Wednesday, fleets of buses departed school parking lots across the state, including in Burlington, to drop off bagged lunches and breakfasts to strategic drop-off points in their communities. Most schools are offering the meals to anyone under 18, no questions asked.
And that's the way it should be done. This NPR story about keeping kids fed also includes a school bus driver, Tony Reed, who says he's glad to be delivering meals in the Franklin Pierce school district, near Tacoma, Washington. The kids get fed, and he gets to see the kids he usually drives to school.
The district's nutrition services manager, Karen Brown, also said it would be neat if the district could expand the services it brings to kids on the bus — like maybe counselors, just to "check in" with the kids and their families.
And that's how we'll get through this, one good idea at a time.
[Mother Jones / "Care for Children of Families of Emergency Workers" -- Minnesota state government / NPR]
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