By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – As Colorado lawmakers look at a bill to support child care and early childhood education centers in the state, the pain is spreading in the pandemic’s third wave.

“You’ve got to understand, too, with the loss of revenue in early childhood, we’re already underfunded. So this is a double whammy in regards to impact,” said Gerie Grimes, President and CEO of Hope Center on the north side of Denver.

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She put in 39 years at the center, the last 13 years in her current job. Eighty percent of the Hope Center’s children are from lower socio-economic groups.

“So it’s very difficult, and we understand that it’s very difficult for everybody right now, but we’re certainly finding the impact,” she said.

Much of the center’s funding depends on its count of students usually done Oct. 1 each year. With COVID-19, that count was put off to Nov. 1. They were off by 25%.

It’s the first time Grimes could remember the center not making its count for aid.

“According to our research we’ve seen at least ten percent of the centers close during the shutdown. Over a quarter of those didn’t think they would be coming back,” said Meg Franko, Director of Research and Policy for Early Milestones Colorado.

The nonprofit has done extensive research into early childhood programs.

“It hasn’t hit all communities the same. It’s harder in some areas of the state. The metro area has been really hard hit and a few outlying areas of the state have been hard hit as well.”

It hit lower economic groups and minority communities especially hard.

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“I think that you will see a lot of kids will not be ready when they’re entering kindergarten,” said Grimes. “Because of the lack of the experience of pre-school.”

The Hope Center lost out on about $300,000 in funding from low attendance as families backed away, keeping children home during the pandemic.

One bill would deliver around $45 million to two emergency grant programs to help keep child care centers open and support new ones.

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The bill in the Colorado Legislature has made it through the House and its first vote in the Senate already. One more vote there, and if it passes it heads to Gov. Jared Polis. He’s been a strong supporter.

Supporters say it could help preserve child care for 100,000 children and potentially create spots for thousands more.

Colorado has been short on options long before the pandemic.

“Already we didn’t have nearly enough care for the people who wanted it. Probably around at least 40,000 spots short for kids zero to five,” said Franko.

“Teaching children early has been difficult for families to do at home. Socialization is a big part,” said Grimes. “First of all its difficult with remote learning. You know part of early childhood education not from the academic point only, but the socialization. So now they’re missing out on that socialization too.”

She noted that computers weren’t the best solution for young minds.

“We’ve always talked about less screen time for children, not just early childhood, but older and now we’re putting them behind the screens. I mean really.”

A lack of child care options has hit many of the front line workers, who often make less money, especially hard.

“Women are being impacted more with some simply leaving the workforce to care for children,” said Franko.

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With Colorado likely offering help, it should make a huge difference she said, but there’s certainly a need for more. She’s concerned there won’t be enough options when the society fully re-opens after COVID-19.

Grimes is trying to keep the Hope Center going and has yet to lay anyone off. She believes teachers and assistants are already underpaid.

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“Can I guarantee that that will continue? No, I can’t, but we’re going to make every outreach to at least maintain the staff that we have.”

Alan Gionet