As COVID-19 became a global pandemic in March, Hawaiʻi Children’s Action Network quickly shifted gears to focus on urgent issues created by the health and economic crisis.
Urgent advocacy to protect children and families
Within a week of COVID-19 reaching pandemic status in March, HCAN worked with the Hawaiʻi Public Health Institute (HIPHI) to urge Hawaiʻi Governor David Ige to implement social distancing measures, through a public letter signed by more than 100 doctors and public health professionals. HCAN also convened letters urging the Governor, mayors, and government officials to support working families and protect child care.
HCAN Executive Director Deborah Zysman also gave a presentation to the Hawaiʻi State House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness on COVID-19’s impacts to the state’s child care sector.
With the Working Families Coalition, HCAN put together recommendations and spending priorities for the state’s share of federal coronavirus response funds through the CARES Act. HCAN also helped to organize a public campaign pushing the legislature to adopt those priorities, which included a socially distanced rally at the Capitol, digital action alerts, media coverage, and op-eds. The legislature ended up allocating $15 million toward child care assistance.
With the Hawaiʻi Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance, HCAN sent letters to three statewide business groups regarding working families and supporting parents: the Hawaiʻi Employers Council, Society for Human Resource Management, and the Hawaiʻi Chamber of Commerce.
In partnership with the Hawaiʻi Afterschool Alliance, HCAN conducted two surveys of parents to find out about their concerns around child care and afterschool programs. Each survey received approximately 700 responses and underscored the need for working parents to have care for their kids. Read the results of the first survey and the second survey.
In July, the state cut funding for seven public pre-K classes due to its budget shortfall caused by the pandemic. HCAN raised the alarm, and public pressure — including media coverage featuring HCAN — eventually led the governor to restore funding for all seven classrooms.
Informing the public about resources and rights
With information constantly changing, and the latest updates often hard to find, HCAN quickly realized that public education must be a critical component of our response. By the end of March, HCAN put together an interactive, mobile-friendly map of resources to help families cope with the COVID-19 crisis, which includes information on food, child care, financial assistance, and more. It’s become the state’s leading resource list, having been cited by Governor Ige, state and county officials, and numerous local organizations.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) gave many workers the right to emergency paid leave and paid sick days. After its passage in March, HCAN quickly put together information and graphics (in English and Filipino). As caregivers began anticipating distance learning in July, HCAN published additional information about how this paid leave can be used to care for kids whose schools are closed or doing online instruction. Click here to read about your rights.
At the end of April, the State Department of Human Services changed child care subsidy rules to make many more families eligible. HCAN helped to inform the public about these changes by publicizing information through our networks, email newsletter, and social media. As a result of this community effort, applications for child care subsidies more than doubled.
New community engagement and digital organizing efforts
In March, HCAN and HIPHI launched a new collaboration hub on Slack, which now has over 200 members representing social services, education, labor, small businesses, and other sectors. By coordinating our efforts, we’ve been able to serve the community more efficiently and effectively. This community effort also mobilized volunteers to assemble 12,000 face shields for essential workers.
HCAN has also been a leading voice on the importance of child care in the state’s economic recovery. HCAN staff members have been interviewed numerous times for news stories appearing on TV, in print, and online. We have also successfully submitted or coordinated op-eds on this subject, including one written by three HCAN board members urging the state to not let child care to “become an afterthought.” We also created Facebook profile picture “frames” for supporters to display the message that “There’s no economic recovery without child care.” (Click here to change your profile picture, or click here for an alternate design.)