Shutdown affects local day care for federal workers

Oct. 15, 2013 @ 10:20 AM

While she’s been on furlough from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the federal government shutdown, Sania Tong Argao said she has loved spending time with her young son.

But Argao also said she and other employees want to get back to work. And she said her son misses his school, First Environments Early Learning Center, his teachers and his routine.

Located on the agency’s campus in the Research Triangle Park, the day care center primarily cares for children of federal employees. During the shutdown, the EPA required the facility to close, said Liz Naess, president of the parent board for the school.

Its teachers have been out of work. A proposal from federal lawmakers to provide back pay for furloughed federal workers does not include contractors.

“There’s a lot of people affected,” Argao said of the shutdown, speaking Monday at a demonstration held to highlight effects on the day care center.

Several parents, their children, a teacher and the center’s director stood on a sidewalk in between the campuses of the EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, an institute of the National Institutes of Health, or the NIH. The day care center mainly cares for the children of those two agencies, Naess said.

Some with strollers and babies in tow, the demonstrators held signs, such as “Government shutdown = Jobless teachers.”

Erin Hines, another furloughed EPA worker and a mother of two, helped organize the protest. She said was concerned about teachers losing pay.

A bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives, that, if passed by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama, would allow for back pay for federal employees. But Naess was concerned about others, like the center’s teachers, who would not receive that pay under the current proposal.

The teachers received their last paycheck on Oct.4, she said. If the federal government doesn’t reopen this week, teachers won’t receive anything on pay day on Oct. 25.

Parents are going to do what they can to try to give some of the teachers back pay, Naess said, but not all parents of children at the center are furloughed, and have had to make other child care arrangements.

“I think this sense of uncertainty is challenging for everyone,” said Beth Lake, the director of the early learning center, which she said has about 55 employees.

Impacts vary for different employees depending on what kind of support they have at home and from their families, Lake said.

Some live paycheck to paycheck. Some have been hired by employees who are considered essential to babysit, she said.

“My hope is that everyone will be able to meet the monetary demands they have,” she said.

Sarah Shenton works at the center with one other teacher in a classroom of nine 1-year-olds.

As a teacher, she said she doesn’t get paid a “whole lot to begin with.” The shutdown and what it means for her paycheck “has a pretty big impact,” she said.

Darryl Weatherhead said she and her husband are both on furlough from the EPA. Their two children, Darcy Reed, age 4, and Mason Reed, age 2, normally attend First Environments.

Weatherhead said that she and her husband have put a lot of money in savings, and expect to manage during the shutdown. But she had concerns for the teachers at the center. She also said her children love school.

“My 4-year-old asks every day if she’s going to school,” Weatherhead said of Darcy, who held a sign at Monday’s protest that said “I miss circle time.” “I want them to be able to go to school.”