Uninsured, but Essential

Meet Jeanette. She’s an In-Home Child Care Provider caring for children in her North Ward neighborhood of Newark, NJ. Like many of her neighbors, the COVID-19 State of Emergency has upended Jeanette’s work – and forced her to choose between keeping an income or risking her health and the health of her family.

“I don’t have any health insurance,” says Jeanette. “For almost two decades I have cared for children and I have built a record I am very proud of. Most of my children place into advance levels when they enter school, they become honor roll students, and they go to college after high school. I know I am doing good work, but if you look at my paychecks and my benefits you would think I’m brand new.”

Typically, Jeanette cares for five children at any given time, the maximum allowed under state regulations. “I need to have four kids at all times to pay my bills every month. During normal times it is a struggle to make ends meet, and I’m forced to do things I am uncomfortable doing – the worst of which is foregoing health insurance because it’s simply too expensive.”

But these are not normal times. Working people like Jeanette who have been living on the margins of the economy for years, now dangle from financial cliffs.3.jpg

Three of the five children I currently care for are home with their parents during the State of Emergency. Two of the children receive childcare vouchers from the State of New Jersey. One child is a private pay client.

“Governor Murphy issued emergency policies that will supplement my lost income for the two children on vouchers, but the private pay income is simply gone. If I could not afford health insurance before, there is no way I could possibly afford it now. It’s ironic that the pandemic has put health insurance further out of reach for me and taken it away from a lot of people I know who have lost their jobs – and their health care – right when we need it most.”

Jeanette’s struggle to access health insurance is not uncommon for the nearly 1,000 in home child care providers caring for children receiving child care subsidies. In fact, it is one of the major reasons why this largely female workforce are members of their union, CWA Local 1037. They understand collective power.

“They won’t give me health insurance because I tell them I want health insurance,” says Jeanette. “But if 1,000 of us show up in Trenton with bullhorns and tell them that we want health insurance, then our odds increase. And that’s a fight I know we are willing to have.”

In the meantime, Jeanette’s only other option is to fill the open spots she has with the children of essential workers, whose parents are on the front lines battling the pandemic and making sure our basic needs are met.

“Honestly, I’m torn,” says Jeanette. “Clara Maas hospital is a few blocks from my home and I’m sure there are nurses and doctors there who need childcare, and there are plenty of other essential workers in my community who work at grocery stores and what not. But I worry about my health. These children come with a higher risk to my own health because of what their parents do for a living.

But it is even more complicated than that. I don’t do this work from some random house; I do this work from my home. My decision is not whether I want to make more widgets or not make more widgets. If I want to ‘barely get by’ like I was doing a couple months ago – put food on the table, keep a roof over my head, pay my utilities – then I must make a decision that will ultimately increase my family’s risk of exposure to the virus. That thought terrifies me.

Join the chorus of voices like Jeanette's and tell the world YOUR story! You can participate in the #OurCommunities Story Telling Project by visiting www.UnitedNJ.org/TellYourStory.