As El Paso child care providers struggle to restore services in a reopening economy, they’ve faced an unexpected source of competition for workers — the Fort Bliss emergency shelter for migrant children.
Local nonprofit providers say they’ve had trouble recruiting and retaining child care workers since March 30, when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services opened the Fort Bliss “emergency intake site” for a large number of children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border without parents or guardians. At about the same time, federally contracted staffing companies began advertising for child care jobs at the site, with pay ranging from about $17 to $19 an hour—roughly double the $9.18 median wage for El Paso’s child care workers.
“We’re a nonprofit, we’re just coming out of COVID, and it’s just been extremely difficult to hire child care workers,” said Sylvia Acosta, CEO of the YWCA El Paso del Norte Region, the city’s largest provider of child care. “We pay competitive salaries for our market, but we just can’t compete.”
Acosta said the higher wages have also prompted several YWCA employees to quit to work at the Fort Bliss site, which houses thousands of children in tents. That adds an additional burden to the organization’s already existing staffing shortage, which dropped by about 100 employees during the pandemic—a shortfall that Acosta hopes to make up by the start of the school year.
The El Paso Center for Children, whose services include parenting classes, a youth emergency shelter, and mental health counseling for children and parents, lost 10% of its staff to the shelter, according to its CEO, Beth Senger. “They’re very aggressive,” she said of recruiters for the Fort Bliss site, who called the center asking to advertise the Fort Bliss jobs to Senger’s staff.