Jeff Schnaufer | First 5 LA Writer/Editor

Published May 27, 2020 | Photo Credit: Rondah Delos Reyes

As a full-time cardiac rehab worker at a Glendale hospital, Kirstie Basal-De La Cruz helps to heal injured hearts from all over Los Angeles County, working with patients recovering from recent stents or heart attacks.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, however, it was her own heart that sank.

Child care for Kirstie’s 2-1/2-year-old twin daughters, Kayla and Eva, had been split between her commercial truck-driving husband, her mother and full day preschool twice a week in Altadena. After the statewide orders came out, her mother – a retired RN – wisely decided to shelter in place.

So Kirstie and her husband, Elgin, doubled down on the days — and the cost — of child care for their daughters. What was $1,167 per month jumped to $2,334.

“The costs did keep me up at night,” Kirstie, from Baldwin Park, recalled. “But if me or my husband had to stay home full time with them, that’s a significant loss of income and could endanger our mortgage.”

They were able to make it happen with financial help from her mother and by diving into savings. “We ate the cost of having them go full time four days a week. I tried not to stress about it. Our options were limited. We were fortunate to have savings. Not everyone does.”

Then, in May, Kirstie’s mom mentioned that she read about child care funding available for essential workers like her and Elgin.

“It was one of those rabbit hole internet searches. I just kept clicking around until I found Options for Learning,” Kirstie recalled. “I sent out an email asking how it works and within 30 minutes they were in touch with me. There was an application process. I sent those papers back and it was approved the next day. They did a phenomenal job.”

Advocacy by the California Early Care and Education Coalition, First 5 LA and many other partners helped secure $50 million (statewide total) from the state for emergency vouchers to assist essential workers like Kirstie and Elgin in paying for child care. Essential workers can access these vouchers through resource and referral agencies like Options for Learning.

Additionally, the Los Angeles Early Care and Education COVID-19 Response Team, of which First 5 LA is a partner, provided support in setting up an enhanced referral system to connect essential workers to available spaces at open child care providers. This includes the centralized 888-92CHILD number and an interactive map on the Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles (CCALA) website.

As a result of these efforts, there is no more doubling down on day care costs for twins Kayla and Eva. Their entire preschool tuition is covered by state vouchers for the last two weeks of May and all of June.

“It’s great. Really great,” Kirstie says. “I breathed a sigh of relief that we don’t have to dwindle down our savings. I know that the girls are well cared for and I can still go to work.”