Summer camp canceled because of coronavirus? What parents need to know
The coronavirus pandemic has brought American life to a grinding halt, shuttering restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, schools and a slew of other businesses throughout the country.
Next up could be summer camp.
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As some states begin to ease stay-at-home measures implemented earlier this year to slow the spread of COVID-19, many summer camps are still deciding how, or whether, to reopen.
Summer camp is an $18 billion industry that attracts more than 20,000 children each summer, according to the American Camp Association. It also fills a critical child-care need for some parents during the summer.
The Girl Scouts canceled camp. The Boy Scouts is leaving the decision up to individual councils, though some have already announced intentions to cancel and hold virtual camps for kids, with activities that can be done at home.
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Whether camps open depends heavily on state guidance. In New Jersey and New York, the American epicenter, for instance, camps have said they are waiting to hear from the governor on whether sleepaway and day camps can remain open this summer.
“We are literally waiting to see if they are going to license camps, and what types of guidelines will camps have to follow in order to be able to keep kids safe," Susie Lupert, the executive director of the American Camp Association for New York and New Jersey, told Spectrum News.
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The ACA, which represents more than 3,100 camps, is working with the YMCA and a public-health consulting firm, Environmental Health & Engineering, to draft recommendations for day and sleepaway camps, including on how to reduce possible coronavirus exposure if they open. The guidelines can be found at acacamps.org and will be updated as more information becomes available.
But like many aspects of life during the crisis, summer camps -- if they do open -- are going to look a lot different than they typically do. For instance, it could include online sessions from home, or small groups of kids in sleepaway camps. Counselors may need to stay on-site even on their days off to minimize exposure.
The federal Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, released by the Trump administration in mid-April, put most of the reopening onus on states, rather than the federal government.
Part of the summer camp decision will also boil down to parents and whether they feel comfortable with their child reintegrating with other kids. If a parent chooses to not send their kid, they should request a refund from the summer camp as soon as possible. Most camps will give families their money back, although some -- risking financial ruin -- have asked parents to donate all or part of the tuition and apply it to next year.
And on Tuesday, the Internal Revenue Service gave employers permission to let employees make changes to their flexible spending accounts. A dependent-care flexible-spending account, or FSA, allows employees of participating companies to contribute up to $5,000 of pretax earnings to pay expenses for programs for a child under the age of 13. The account money can also be spent on care for an older dependent who cannot care for themselves.
When employees incur the expense, they're reimbursed from the account - meaning they never owe tax on that money.
If funds are not used by the end of the year on qualified expenses, they're generally forfeited.
If parents choose to not send their child to summer camp, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean the money in the account needs to go to waste.
“Right now, generally, if you look at current regulations, that money would be lost unless it’s spent for eligible childcare,” said Jody Dietel, senior vice president of advocacy and government affairs at Health Equity. “But I would encourage people, especially those people who are working from home, there’s a lot of creative things you can do to get child care to maybe get you some time to focus.”
Eligible expenses can include babysitters and nanny expenses, according to Health Equity.
“That’s a perfectly acceptable use of those expenses,” Dietel said. “It’s a little bit thinking outside the box of your traditional daycare you might have had.”