Newsom signs order to expand child care for kids of health care workers, first responders, grocery store staff

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Children play at a California day care center in 2016. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Children play at a California day care center in 2016. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Saturday to provide expanded child care access for children of essential workers as the coronavirus pandemic leaves schools closed for months.

The order waives eligibility and enrollment requirements, allowing state-subsidized child care centers and after-school programs to prioritize essential workers like health care professionals, first responders, law enforcement and grocery workers and others.

And though the new order paves the way for the children of essential employees to get priority at child care providers, it will not impact enrollment of abused and neglected children who always have priority in the state’s centers, the governor’s office said in a news release.

The governor instructed the state’s education and social services departments to come up with a plan for how to roll out the changes and how to safely care for the children amid the pandemic by Tuesday. That includes issuing guidance on how big the groups can be and how they can practice social distancing.

The Los Angeles Unified School District had previously announced it would set up 40 family resource centers to care for the students amid school closures, with thousands of the district’s staff signing up to work at the centers. But the nation’s second-largest school district later backed away from the plan, saying they centers wouldn’t be safe enough for the staff and students.

It’s still unclear how the state’s centers would ensure safety as the coronavirus continues to spread.

The state’s agencies were also told to identify children eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which provides thousands of California’s low-income households up to $194 per family member every month to be used to buy food.

Newsom had already signed an executive order on March 18 that eases requirements for people applying for CalFresh food assistance, the state’s version of SNAP, as the coronavirus outbreak resulted in business closures, event cancellations and layoffs throughout the state.

After first declaring a state of emergency one month ago, the governor also signed an order to ensure continued funding for state-subsidized child care providers on March 17.

As school closures drag on through the end of the academic year, the latest order will “ensure that essential critical infrastructure workers can obtain necessary child care to continue working to assist the State’s response to COVID-19,” the governor said.

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