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If government doesn’t step in soon to rescue the child care industry decimated by COVID-19, there will be little left of child care to save.

That was the overriding message expressed by child care providers, advocates and elected officials at a video press conference Thursday urging Congress to approve a bill that would provide $50 billion in support to child care centers across the country.

“Child care is in a fight to survive,” said Karen Rainville, Executive Director of The Connecticut Association for the Education of Young Children. “We are approaching a catastrophic situation.“

In the roughly four months since the pandemic began, more than half of Connecticut’s approximately 4,000 child care centers have closed, creating a domino effect of negative economic, social and health impacts on workers and on families who rely on the service so that parents can work.

An estimated 45,000 child care slots in the state are expected to disappear in the coming months.

Some centers closed voluntarily, while others were forced to after workers tested positive for the virus, said Tennille Smalls, who runs a child care center out of her New Haven home that primarily serves the children of essential health care workers.

She said she decided to send her 15-year-old son to a family member’s home during the workday to try to prevent his possible exposure to the virus.

“We are faced with the huge fear of losing our businesses while also risking our health and the health of our loved ones,” Smalls said during the “Crisis in Child Care” press conference held by the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance and other organizations.

Calling the issue a “national disgrace,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said passage of a $50 billion federal aid program known as the “Child Care Stabilization Fund” will be his top priority when Congress reconvenes in the nation’s capital on Monday.

Courtesy of the CT Early Childhood Alliance

He said he also planned to raise the issue with Gov. Ned Lamont.

“It is a moral imperative,” Blumenthal said. “It is a social and economic requirement that we move forward and that we make it a priority.”

Julie Clark runs a preschool and children’s center Woodbury. She is still considering whether to reopen and face lower enrollment coupled with the high cost and lack of availability of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

“We are businesses,” she said. “We are often seen as just a lovely group of people who love children, and we’re also that, but we are business owners, and we must especially now have the support of the federal government in order to continue to exist.”