ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Hundreds of child care centers across Maryland have shuttered since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thousands more are in jeopardy of closing their doors permanently, hanging on razor-thin margins as they reach out to state lawmakers for help.

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It’s a predicament Ruth Claytor knows all too well.

Claytor is the owner of Granny Annie’s Child Care & Learning Center, which has been operating in Pasadena for 18 years. She said the abruptness of the pandemic placed a huge strain on her business.

“While I am waiting (for federal loans), I had to put $20,000 of my own money—well, it was my mom’s money, actually—to sustain my business because I couldn’t meet payroll,” she said. “We would have had to close.”

Claytor said Granny Annie’s had a full enrollment of 63 children, and even more on a waiting list, when the pandemic hit. That number dwindled to just 14 children once she reopened. She said her teaching staff fell from 13 to 11, and the teachers who stuck around are burnt out.

“Teachers are kind of stretched thin because there is a workforce shortage, not just in our area but nationwide,” Claytor said.

Charging more money for services wasn’t an option for Claytor, who said the parents she serves have a hard time making ends meet without any additional expenses.

Christina Peusch, executive director for the Maryland State Childcare Association, said parents in Maryland already pay steep prices for child care.

“They should be paying 7% of their income, and Marylanders are paying over 30% of their income for child care,” she said.

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Peusch, who advocates for child care centers, said the CARES Act, American Rescue Plan Act and other legislation did help, but for many the money came too late.

In Maryland, there were 8,000 child care facilities in early 2020. Since then, more than 700 have closed, leaving the state with roughly 7,200 centers.

State Comptroller Peter Franchot listened to these concerns during a hearing held Wednesday afternoon. He said the state couldn’t figure out how to get the federal money into the hands of small businesses.

Franchot called the Maryland Department of Education “inefficient,” saying child care workers are the unsung heroes of the pandemic and should be treated accordingly.

“If there is no child care, there is no real economy,” Franchot said. “We have to have working people be able to take care of their families.”

Some child care centers want to see regulatory changes, like some leniency with hiring in light of the staffing shortage. They want their workers to have benefits from the state such as medical and dental coverage.

They also would like to see tax credits and vouchers for struggling parents.

In Claytor’s eyes, the state should want to see child care centers full, so that parents can continue working.

“Child care needs help,” she said. “We are important. The economy couldn’t function without child care.”

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Franchot said he plans to bring up some of these needs with lawmakers when the legislative session begins in January.

Rachael Cardin