A federal worker’s day care struggle during the shutdown

WASHINGTON — On a day when he would normally be at day care, 5-year-old Jai Cai launched himself into the air on a trampoline as his mom looked on.

The stop in Gaithersburg, Maryland, was one of many activities his mother, June Cai, had planned for him as she took unexpected time off from her job at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

June Cai’s agency is fully funded, so she is expected to be at work, and her paychecks are still coming in during the partial government shutdown. But, her son attends a day care at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, which has run out of money.

“All of a sudden, we found ourselves without day care basically, very unexpectedly,” Cai said.

“There are some in-home day cares, but we really can’t drop him off on such short notice with the special needs he has,” June Cai said. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

The day care struggle is something Cai and federal employees deemed essential have encountered since the shutdown began.

Cai doesn’t have any other relatives in the area, and since her son has special needs, it hasn’t been as simple as finding space in another day care for the duration of the shutdown.

“There are some in-home day cares, but we really can’t drop him off on such short notice with the special needs he has,” Cai said.

She said the solution she and her husband, who works in the private sector, were forced to come up with is alternating days off between the two of them. For both, that means using up vacation days that they won’t get back when the day care reopens.

“We are each looking at using a week or two of vacation,” she said.

Cai added that they are also looking into babysitters who can spend a few hours with their son so they can work from home.

Making things more difficult for the family is what is in the fine print in their contract with the day care.

“We have to pay for the first five days of a shutdown, so even though we don’t have day care, we’re actually paying for the first five days of it as well,” Cai said.

For the family, the hope now is that a budget deal will be made soon, not only for their sake, but for their son’s sake, since not going to school has been a disappointment for him.

“How do you explain it to a 5-year-old, why his school is closed, why we don’t know when it’s going to be open, why he can’t see his teachers, why he can’t see his friends?” Cai said.

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