Child care providers are feeling an unprecedented squeeze. Now, they’re asking for help.

Many child care providers won’t survive the coronavirus outbreak, a coalition of state groups warned Thursday, as they pushed lawmakers to offer financial relief for day cares and early learning centers.

“Child care providers are already operating on very small margins,” the groups wrote in a letter to Congressional leaders, calling for child care providers to be considered in any economic stimulus package.

“While the safety of children, families, educators and the community is paramount in decision-making, extended closures over the next several weeks or months could potentially put a substantial percentage of them out of business permanently, exacerbating the realities of the widespread child care deserts as they already exist today.”

They cited a survey of 6,000 providers conducted this month by the National Association for the Education of Young Children that found that only 11% of providers felt confident in their ability to survive an extended closure. Roughly 30% of providers said they could not survive a closure of longer than two weeks without financial support, and another 16% they could not survive a closure of longer than a month.

They called for both licensed child care centers and home-based daycares to be eligible for all assistance available to other small business owners, as well as dedicated funding and programs that meet their particular needs. They also said child care centers that remain open need information about how to operate safely, and their employees need paid sick leave and access to unemployment benefits.

Lawmakers and the Trump administration are currently working out the details of an economic stimulus package, which could include payments to individual Americans as well as help for small businesses and entire industries. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a $1 trillion proposal Thursday afternoon.

Rhian Allvin, chief executive officer of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, said the early childhood education sector needs financial support in an amount that matches its importance to the rest of the economy and the potentially devastating impact of closures.

“It is a topic of conversation on the Hill,” Allvin said, but the dollar amounts under discussion represent “a drop in the bucket in terms of what the field needs to just survive. We’re talking about major bailouts of industry like travel and airlines. Child care needs to be at the top of the list.”

Child care centers need particular consideration in a stimulus plan, the organizations say, because the national health crisis has put them in a particularly tough spot. Parents and employees are concerned about their exposure risk, pushing attendance down and making staffing challenging.

Meanwhile, all across the country, governors and state officials have been urging child care centers to remain open to serve the families who need them, particularly parents who are emergency workers.

Allvin called it a “massive dilemma.”

“Widespread closure of child care facilities will dramatically impact the ability of first responders, such as health care providers, to remain available to serve their communities,” an Oklahoma official wrote to providers last weekend. “It is critical that you do all you can to remain open.”

In Indiana, some daycares have shuttered anyway as parents pulled their kids this week. And in Colorado, state officials are partnering with community groups to create an emergency child care system for frontline workers after many providers followed their local school districts and closed.

Colorado is also asking counties to continue to provide subsidies to child care centers that face low attendance or temporary closures related to COVID-19.

“One of our top concerns is that our state’s child care centers and preschools might collapse without additional support, because they mostly operate on parent tuition payments and fee-for-service, and they run on really thin margins,” said Leslie Colwell of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, an advocacy group that signed the letter.

Allvin said she fears that a large percentage of the nation’s 2 million early childhood educators could be unemployed in a few weeks. Even in good times, nearly half of these workers earn so little that they qualify for some form of public assistance.

The decision whether to stay open or close has weighed heavily on Jill Andrews, who runs two centers in downstate Illinois and serves as a de facto advocate for early childhood businesses around the state. Andrews will close her centers Friday in response to the pandemic, in part because her enrollment dropped 80% and in part because she’s 66 — in the highest risk group by age of complications due to COVID-19 — and she’s caring for two aging relatives in her home.

“I can’t risk taking coronavirus back to them,” she said with a heavy sigh.

For now, center directors like Andrews face difficult choices in Illinois. If they accept state funding, they must continue to pay their staff whether they stay open or not. But the state funding won’t cover the drastic losses from families who typically pay tuition and aren’t paying during the closure.

Centers that close down and tell their staff to file unemployment face risks, too, including difficulty recruiting educators back down the road and future spikes in unemployment taxes.

“Can we come back intact? That is the issue,” said Andrews, who took a poll in a Facebook group she moderates of child care center owners across the state and found that 82% percent of more than 230 respondents have so far remained open.

One frequent issue that has surfaced on the group: Caregivers who operate child care businesses out of their homes fear they won’t technically qualify as small businesses and won’t qualify for a bailout, which would threaten their very survival.

Another issue: Providers asking each other for ideas for second careers, speculating they won’t make it through the crisis. “Already, I’m seeing people say they’re going to have to go find another job — another line of work,” Andrews said.

Andrews said there is one silver lining. When the governor shut down schools in Illinois, he said he couldn’t force the closure of child care centers because they are an “essential service” and responsible for the care of children of critical first responders.

After years of trying to elbow her way into a policy discussion she feels is dominated by K-12 schools, “I was so happy to hear someone finally say we are an essential service and to treat us as such,” she said. “Now we would like a little more consideration.”

You can read the full text of the letter here.