BOSTON — Back-to-school has been anything but routine this fall with many of the Commonwealth’s schools returning either partially or fully remote.
While virtual learning presents challenges for parents, teachers and students alike, working parents, in particular, are struggling to make it work for them.
“I was one of the ones that was vouching for remote learning, but I didn’t really take into consideration how that would affect work and everything like that,” said Milhomme Jean-Charles of Worcester.
Worcester is one of 40 Massachusetts communities currently considered at high risk for coronavirus transmission and all public school learning in the city is fully remote, at least through the first quarter of the academic year.
Jean-Charles is a single father with full custody of his six-year old son. Recently, faced with the reality of remote learning, the 30-year old physical therapist made the decision to leave his job.
“My hours were from 8am to 3pm and given the remote learning situation, you know, it’s one of the things that I had to make that sacrifice. It’s either school or work. And if he doesn’t go to school, I could get in trouble anyways,” said Jean-Charles. “From 8am to about 2pm every single day I focus on him.”
Across the country millions of parents say they’re unable to work because they have no one to care for their children. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 6,799,890 adults cite the need to care for a dependent not in school or lack of childcare for being out of work. In Massachusetts, that number is 126,132, with people without a college degree or unable to work from home hit the hardest.
"This a really difficult situation for parents who may have in the past relied on school as a form of childcare, said Gabrielle Pepin, an economist with the Michigan-based W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. “For some parents, their job might not pay enough for them to compensate for these increased childcare costs, and they might not really have a choice as to whether to be able to work or stay home with their child.”
According to Pepin, the cost of childcare has increased during the pandemic, in part, because more people need it at a time when there’s less space either because of social distancing requirements or limited capacity.
25 Investigates checked with the Massachusetts Department of Labor and a private employment attorney to see what help is available for parents like Jean-Charles. We found that workers who are forced to quit their jobs because their children are learning at home may qualify for traditional unemployment insurance. But for those who are not eligible for the traditional program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) may be an option. A recent change to unemployment insurance benefits states an individual may qualify if “a child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency and such school or facility care is required for the individual to work”
Another option for parents who can’t work due to a child unable to attend school may be the Families First Coronavirus Act (FFCA), which grants a maximum of 12 weeks of emergency paid sick leave. There are many restrictions for FFCA so it’s important to check with an employer to see if this is a good alternative.
Pepin, the Upjohn Institute expert, says families should also consider taking advantage of the federal child care tax credit. It applies to traditional and informal care such as a family member or neighbor watching your kids.
The credit ranges from 20% to 35% of what you spent on daycare, with a cap of $6,000 for two children.
Jean-Charles, the single dad from Worcester, tell 25 Investigates he’s already applied for unemployment insurance but is still waiting to learn if he’s approved. As financially difficult as his decision to quit work to help his son learn has been, Jean Charles say he has no regrets and plans to keep his child home until COVID-19 is no longer a danger.
" At the end of the day, you know, it’s about his safety, making sure of his well-being," he said.
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