October 22, 2021

Supporting families in San Diego so they can keep working during the pandemic

This is episode 1 in the 'Pandemic Provider Interview' series. You can find more episodes here.

We had 30 days of pay for closed, but I didn't want to close down because I feel bad for my parents, that I have a lot of like military parents and I also have parents who at work at hospitals and they were essential workers and they had to go to work, and I didn't close even though I was scared because my youngest one is asthmatic, I still stayed open and I just like prayed that we wouldn't catch COVID.

It's unfortunate for providers who actually risk putting themselves in danger and their family, because we have families and we work from home. But I didn't close, because I was scared of losing my clients, and also the inconvenience for the parents, you know, finding another daycare provider. I have two military parents, I have two that work at the hospital and then others that work in supermarkets or at schools that were still open, they had to go to work. So it was very unfortunate.

Provider:

I'm a large, licensed home daycare provider and I've been doing this since 2017. So I believe it’s been four years in this business. I caught COVID, myself and I had to close down the daycare. It kind of sucked because for example, I work with subsidized children and then I work with out of pocket parents. I didn't have anything in the contract that said if there was something in the pandemic, you know, that the parents were responsible for payment, even though I was closed. So when I had a close, I didn't receive payment for the out of pocket parents and for the children, only a subsidy. I've only received 14 days of paid leave and it was hard on me because I have two children, one is three and the other one is six. For some reason, everybody in the house caught COVID like my husband and my 12 year old. But the six and the three year old did not catch COVID. It was the weirdest thing because the three year old still sleeps with me in the same bed and she never caught it. As much as I tried to, I couldn't isolate her because my husband caught it, so we were wearing our masks and washing and sanitizing the bathroom as soon as we were done using it. We basically carried the lights with us all over the place. My two daughters, the youngest ones, got tested when we tested positive and then after we did our quarantine and tested them to see if they had it and they didn't have it. Then before I was going to open it, I tested them again and they were clear as well. The county of San Diego closed me down for my 14 days and then after that my children had a quarantine for 14 days. So that's why it was so hard because I had a total of 14 plus 14 days of closure and I only got paid for 14 days for only the subsidized children. And when the pandemic hit, they said that if you wanted to work, we'd get a letter from you if we wanted to close down. We had 30 days of pay for closed, but I didn't want to close down because I feel bad for my parents, because I have a lot of like military parents and I also have parents who at work at hospitals and they were essential workers and they had to go to work, and I didn't close even though I was scared because my youngest one is asthmatic. I still stayed open and I just prayed that we wouldn't catch COVID and then they only had 30 days for a certain amount of time. If you didn't use it, and you kept on working you basically lost the 30 days paid from the subsidy. So when I ended up catching COVID, it was moved from 30 days to 15 days. So that was really hard on my business. I ended up paying my employees for the days that I closed because I didn't want them to go somewhere else to another job and I didn't want them to leave. Then when I was going to open and I had a large license, I needed an employee back. So I ended up paying them as if they were coming to work. I was also unsure if I had to pay them or if I didn't have to pay them because everything was unsure. So I just went ahead and I said no, I could risk not paying them and then they're gonna go on unemployment and then unemployment was doing the $600 extra, so I said they're gonna figure that they're doing better. They're getting more money with unemployment, so I just went ahead and paid them. Then I got ready to reopen the whole house, got it clean, and everything got sanitized, so that was expensive, too. So that was my experience. I had to close down and this was in January and that's why they had taken off the 30 days. I had called and I had said, Well, I'm not planning to close. So am I gonna get more money? I asked, there's a lot of providers that haven't even caught COVID and they closed for 30 days, and they got paid after they were working. And I said, Well, what happens to the people that actually work? Are we going to get extra pay for hackers pay and they said no. And that kind of sucks for me. I was like, well that’s unfortunate for providers who actually risk putting themselves in danger and their family, because we have families and we work from home. But I didn't close, just because I was scared of losing my clients, and also the inconvenience for the parents, you know, finding another daycare provider. I have two military parents. I have two that work at the hospital and then others that work in supermarkets or at schools that were still open and they had to go to work, so it was very unfortunate, especially the reason for them closing me down. I've questioned it myself. I said, How come you're quoting me for 14 days and then you're also closing me for an additional four days?'' They said that because my kids and I had COVID, they didn't know how to stay six feet apart from other kids. So they're three and six years old.

Interviewer:

So you only got paid for 14 of those days and that was only for the subsidy children?

Provider:

Correct and for the cash parents I didn't get paid. I'm always like, up to you know, whatever I have in the contract. So since I wasn't in the contract, I was like, “I guess you don't have to pay you know?” because I don't think it was fair also for the parents as well. So I was just like *big sigh* I took a hardship on the business. I didn't feel it right away because we get paid at the end of the month, for the subsidy, so you work the whole month, you send your timesheet and then you get paid around the 15 or so. So I didn't feel it right away.

Out of my 14 kids, I lost one family. But, I felt it, like it took me a while to be like, Okay, come back to my seat, you know, but thank god my husband works and he's an essential worker as well. He works at the hospital. So it didn't feel too hard. Well, we were at home anyways, so we were in quarantine, so we didn’t go anywhere. So it's not like we were spending extra money. It was expensive, but I will have my family drop off food and that was expensive. I don't know if you can't understand it, but it's very tiring. I didn't have the energy to cook, you know, and I didn't want to rely on people like, hey, come and see me. Usually my parents will bring me tea or, like, a meal a day. But now I will message my brother, “hey, can you pick up some food and I'll transfer you some money”. So I did feel it was expensive, you know, catching COVID as well. Just eating out, expensive. I only lost one family and it was because she was working as a self contractor and she was cleaning people's houses. She lost her work because during the pandemic, nobody wanted people coming into your home, so they would cancel her. So they ended up telling her, “Oh, you can’t come and clean the house until you know the pandemic stops”. So she basically stopped bringing the child to me because she didn't have work.

I did replace the spot with a military child, but it wasn’t right away. It was like I would say maybe a month after. I don't know if there's a lot of people without work, but I still get calls asking me “do you have a spot open? I need childcare”. I'm like, I don't. I’m getting the feeling that a lot of providers are closed, so that's why I ended up getting phone calls for first childcare and then the schools closed down. So you know, those working parents,they also had to look for childcare. So it was a lot of school aged children that needed childcare. Yes and that was a challenge, let me tell you, because they required me to have my other assistants there more time. But I have two assistants, one with the little kids and one with the preschool and then with the school aged children all the time. Because what happened is that everybody's on a different schedule. They were introduced to the computer as well, a lot of the kids, so they didn't know how to type in for their zoom class or they didn't know how to even turn on the computer and put the password or where the letters are, so it was a very a lot of learning to process. I had to upgrade my cox internet because it was so slow with all the people on it. I never raised the prices on the daycare, and I never reduced my hours, but some providers were saying that they were closing an hour early so they could clean and disinfect. I didn't do that either. I'm very like, bare with the family. So a lot of providers said, “Oh, no, I told my parents that I close an hour early”, but a lot of providers like myself watched kids for 10 hours. So they were only providing care for children for nine hours, even though the contract says 10 hours, because they were using the last hour to clean and disinfect. For me, I will pay more for my providers to stay longer for them. I mean, my providers, my helpers. So my income went there. Thank god, I had the Verizon grant for $5,000, so that helped me out with employees. Basically I just put it in the bank and I used it for employees’ salaries.

Interviewer:

Did you get any other grants or help paying for things other than the writing grants?

Provider:

The YMCA did the cleaning supplies and masks. Granted, what kind of sucks is that YMCA or CDA, which are city programs. They only give you money for the kids that are in subsidy. So for example, if I have five kids that are cash parents, they don't cover that, they only cover for the subsidy children. There was a grant that they gave us cleaning supplies, so they just gave us a bulk amount. It was on a weekend and we picked them up. That was great, because it was like bleach, masks, sanitizer, and disinfector. Then what else did they give us? I think gloves, yeah, gloves. Then later on, they gave you the choice. Do you want cleaning supplies or you want an amount of money for each subsidy kid, and I picked for the second time the subsidy money. So for every kid that you have in subsidy, they give you an amount, like recently, we just got one for each child and the subsidy gave you $525. So it doesn’t also go for the other kids that are not in subsidy. They didn't get paid. For example, I have the military, but then I also have these parents that work at supermarkets. So the income is not the same as the military parents versus the supermarket parent, because the supermarket parent usually makes a little bit over minimum wage and their income is not the same. So I was just like, I don't want to charge the parents for extra. So I always think about, you know, I’m very diverse in the children I provide like diversity and culture, and also an income if you because of their parents job. For the YMCA, you could be low income, it's just the wait takes years for them. So I tell them about it and they're like oh, okay, just you know, I’ll sign up, but they don't get called because it's taking a long time. I have a parent that just got called and she's a single mom. She’s never asked for welfare or food stamps, because she says she doesn't like to. She just got called for the subsidy and she had put in her pay stubs and I just asked her this morning. Did they tell you you're qualified yet? She was like, no, I already submitted my pay stubs, I'm waiting on their replies to see if I'm going to be covered the whole day here or if I'm going to do a copay. So some of them because they work they have to do a co payment. It takes a while. Then also I was just told by the YMCA, that if you don't check your email, like every four months, it automatically kicks you off the application thinking that you already have childcare. So I just learned that and I tell the parents, okay, when you apply for childcare, make sure you check the website every four months, because it reboots your application. And they're like, Oh, I didn't know that.

Interviewer:

It sounds like you help parents a lot with the subsidy process.

Provider:

Yeah, I've also learned because you get to know your families and you get to know who is like barely doing it. San Diego's rent is so expensive, and then childcare is an extra bill. I just hope that the government will focus more on that. I feel that a lot of it goes to incarceration. And I feel bad because it’s like a broken system. I feel bad, the government needs to focus more on education and health care because that's the future of America.

Interviewer:

Are there other changes to your program or other added costs that you haven't told me about yet?

Provider:

So one very important thing is that they wanted us to keep smaller groups for licenses, right. So I ended up paying a contractor to build me an outdoor shed, not a shed actually like a, like, a sun cover. So that cost me a lot. I want to tell you, if you buy anything at home depot, it's $50 a sheet of wood now, prices went up, because not to get too much into it, but Trump brough, the cost up. So basically, the prices went up on Home Depot on a lot of the supplies. It cost me around $5000. But it's a really nice outdoor patio. I built it because I had to have a tent outside. I wasn't going to buy something that you know the air or the sun is going to eat and it's not going to be good enough. So I ended up building one. I want to say 18 ft by 10ft and it's really big. I put the table down there and we will break up some people who will be the older children over there or the preschool children outdoors to play time, while the other ones stay indoors. So it was switching them off and you know, I got a lot of compliments also from the parents, “hey, that's really nice for the daycare, and I'm like yeah thanks”. But I invested some money on that to meet the COVID licensing requirements because I wasn't going to have the kids out in the sun or in the weather conditions like that.

Interviewer:

Can you tell me a little about how the pandemic has affected your mental health or sense of well being?

Provider:

I did have a lot of anxiety. I even took counseling because I don't know if you remembered that I told you that one of my children is asthmatic. I was really questioning that. Before being a businesswoman, I always got to remember that my priority is being a mom. And I wasn't sure if I was making the right decision, but I was taking all the precautions in taking temperature and making sure that children wash their hands, so I did my best.

Interviewer:

But, you were worried about the daycare kids exposing your daughter with asthma?

Provider:

I was very scared for her. Because I was just like, What if she catches it and she's 3 and what am I going to do? Like I always worry about her. Just in general, out of all my three kids she's my biggest worry because she's asthmatic, because everybody else doesn't have anything else. You know, we're healthy. We don't have anything going but asthma for her. So I had a lot of anxiety. You know, I wouldn't watch the news, the news. Just bad news. So I just don't watch it. I would read the licensing emails and I just watched maybe five minutes of news and then I just don't watch anymore because the whole hour will be just bad news. So that was about it. My counselor, I took counseling on the phone, and it was super good because it was convenient for me because they weren't doing it in person. For me, I liked it a lot and I believe the counselor that I got made me feel very comfortable. I did a lot of meditation like I downloaded the app of calm. And then I downloaded the other app called headspace. And then I will do a lot of exercising after work like going out for a walk at night. Or you know, pm hours and try to do a rhythm to go to bed. So then I got the infuser with the oils, lavender. Then I would put lavender and even my three-year-old, mommy, “you need to get your infuser going” and so she would put the drops in for me. I ended up doing it, also in the morning, because a lot of kids were also nervous. So we would do breathing exercises in the morning before they did their class. So I ended up incorporating yoga into the daycare, and we're doing it today. A lot of the kids were even talking to themselves about coronavirus like, they're like, oh, get away or put your mask on. Remember, we don't want Coronavirus and they're barely like three years old and they're talking about it. Basically, the whole village, you know, like all of us working together to get out of this war, we're still trying to, you know, adapt to the new norm. And for my kids I did tell parents, that I don't feel comfortable when they wanted reopen the schools. I told them, I don't feel comfortable taking your children, if you're going to be taking them to school, and bringing them here, because there's going to be more introductions to even more families over there and more kids. I told them, if you guys are planning to take your kids, I'm letting you know that I will rather not be the provider anymore and you have to find another provider. Almost all my parents were on the same page and that they thought it wasn’t safe for the reopening of the schools and that they left their kids at school. Three parents just brought their kids back to school and it's easily hybrid, so they go twice a week. Then the other three days, they come over here with me. Basically shorter days at school, but they're giving it a try and it just happened in April, so it's barely been three weeks. It will be their fourth week, but most of the other parents are on the same page as me. Like for my six year old and my 12 year old, they're staying online until next year, because right now we're at 16 and up and a lot of people still haven’t gone vaccinated. So I didn't feel comfortable because the district didn't hire new custodians to disinfect. You know, the kids are kids there. They don't know how to keep the six feet away or keep their masks on. I believe that there's also going to be another outbreak because of the schools. I tell you, my six year old, she's like, “Mommy, I want to go back to school”, I said, “Okay, we'll see in July”. I told her she wouldn't go back to school because she wants to go in person, but I'm still not 100% sure on the plan of returning her fully to school. I don't even know if they're planning to do a hybrid for July, or if they're open five days a week like regular school? I don't know. We live in a minority area and have a low income. COVID cases are still high compared to other areas where the rich people live. Rich people sometimes work from home. They have the access to be working from home, but minority people, a lot of them have to go out, work or they even stayed working as essential social workers, so that's why they end up catching COVID. I finished my graduation from COVID anxiety, so that was good and then I just kept on. Even to this day, I even have a real lavender plant inside my room to help. I do the diffuser and I walk every day, you know? I was really scared because you hear all these bad cases of people. When I talked about COVID, I was scared because I was like, “Oh, am I gonna get the breathing problems?”, but I did it. It was just a body ache for me and then the fever.

Interviewer:

What would you say was the hardest part of being a family child care provider during the pandemic?

Provider:

Decision that I stay closed or do I say open? I remember I cried and I told my husband like, you know, like, I'm a mom more than anything, you know, and am I making the best decision for our family? Because there's people coming into our house and that was very, very hard. That was the hardest decision to make.

I think overall it was the best decision because I didn't have to close my business, and we're still running it. I also provided security for all these other families. That I hope, actually helped them as well as feeling secure and easing the anxiety because they will constantly ask me, will you slow down? Are you going to close down, and we kept on working. I know it was stressful. You know, but like, for example, for the military people, they have to go to work and, and be a soldier and sometimes No offense to their job. But sometimes I feel, for example, for me, I can see, “Okay, I can close down”, but for the military, they don't have that option. They have to do it, they're under contract. They have to sometimes be a soldier first, then be a parent and both those parents that I have are female. They're both soldiers. They're both Navy and they're out of their hometown. So sometimes it's just me that they have in childcare to rely on because they're not originally from San Diego.

The most helpful thing was basically the help that I received because the help ease the stress over the salary, you know, to pay employees, so it helped me with that. So getting that, the grant from the verizon, I was super happy and I couldn't believe it. I was like, “Oh my God, I've never won anything in my life”, so to me it was a blessing. Also the hours providers work weren't usually nice, you know, 11 hour days. Well, I changed my hours, but people are used to working from 5:30am to 5:30pm and right now I work from 5:30am to 6:30am to 5:30pm, so 11 hours. So when you show up to stores, they're out of everything like Lysol, and when the YMCA said they were going to provide providers with cleaning supplies, I was like, Oh my gosh, this is such a good blessing because you show up to the source and they're out of the cleaning supplies, even online. It was all sold out. Whoever had it in the store, if you got lucky, they’d hike the prices up, even though they said it was illegal. They sometimes hike up the prices and then my mother, she lives here in San Diego, where we were originally from. She's 60 and over so she was able to go to Costco for me and she's like “Justina, I’m 60 and over so they let me in an hour early, do you need any cleaning supplies?, and I said yes, I do”. She will get my cleaning supplies and if I wasn't because of my mom, I don’t know what I would have done to sanitize sometimes.

Interviewer:

Is there anything that would have helped you that you didn't get during this past year?

Provider:

At some point there weren't even desks, they were all sold out, but I ended up finding a table at my mom's house. I was like, “can I borrow the table” and then I brought it to my house, maybe space for the kids of school-age to sit down. At one point, it was like one desk or sold out, so that was kind of hard. Okay, how do I provide a way for the child to be able to focus on their school? So I guess that's the only one.