Columbus child care worker speaks with Biden about needs of essential workers

By: - February 26, 2021 12:40 am

Carmen Palmer speaks as part of a roundtable with President Joe Biden, far left, and his domestic policy advisor, Susan Rice, far right.

A child care worker in Columbus spoke directly to President Joe Biden about the struggles she faces as an essential worker and single mother.

Carmen Palmer was one of four people who spoke with Biden and his domestic policy advisor, Susan Rice, during a recent roundtable about COVID-19 and Black worker struggles, along with legislation Biden says is likely to pass to bring relief.

After growing up in foster care, Palmer decided to move from Detroit to Columbus after high school, and works at Kiddie Academy, a child care center in Columbus. Palmer runs the food program there while also working as a substitute teacher and occasional bus driver, all while taking care of her own two children.

“My role is to ensure not only 0 to 5 (year-old) children eat, but our school-agers as well,” Palmer said. “I love providing for them nutritious meals, because I know what it’s like not to eat or know when my next meal is coming, especially growing up in foster care.”

COVID-19 showed Palmer the flaws in the child care system, as enrollment goes down with families losing work and therefore the ability to pay for day care.

Not only is Palmer concerned about her business, but the pandemic has also spotlighted “how frail my personal situation is.”

“I am (in) one of the only states that has not prioritized child care for the vaccine, and that’s concerning to me because I’ve worked every single day in the pandemic,” Palmer said. “I’m an essential worker and I’m taking care of essential worker’s kids.”

Palmer said her two young children have been in school both remotely and in the hybrid model that Gov. Mike DeWine wants to see as the minimum standard for schools by March 1 in order to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

Having child care has helped Palmer cope with the changes in school instruction, but she still sees the other needs her children have, besides keeping their grades up.

“It’s not even just my kids but all the kids as well are dealing with their social and emotional needs of social distancing…so we have to deal with those aspects of the kids as well,” Palmer said.

Biden said he hopes the newest COVID-19 relief package will put a dent in the struggles of both child care workers and families who need it, with an increase in the child care tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per child older than six, and more funding for child care centers nationwide.

“We know how important early childhood education and child development is, and to get through this crisis I think we need to be sure child care providers have the funding they need to stay afloat,” Biden said during the roundtable.

He also recognized that some of the children Palmer is serving would have had a free lunch program if their schools had been in session during the pandemic, and an increase in child nutrition program funding is also needed.

“Did you ever think you’d see…miles of cars lined up in multiple lanes waiting for one box of food,” he asked Palmer and the other participants. “This is the United States of America for God’s sakes, and the idea there’s that much food insecurity is just not right.”

He said he expects the relief package to pass, though “we’re not going to pass by a lot.”

Palmer asked Biden when he would be coming back to Columbus, and while he didn’t give a timeline for his return to the state, he took the opportunity to praise Gov. Mike DeWine’s actions amid the pandemic.

“I’m a Democrat, but I think your governor’s doing a pretty decent job at trying to get things going,” Biden said. “I don’t think there’s anything political about this, some folks are just stepping up and he stepped up in my impression.”

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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