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Families, child care facilities brace for impact as emergency federal funding comes to an end

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Posted at 11:19 AM, Sep 29, 2023

DENVER — Child care facilities and families are bracing for impact as $24 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding for child care is set to expire on September 30.

The work being done inside Smarty Pants Academy in Denver's Clayton neighborhood has touched the lives of generations. Tamara James' mother began the business when James was headed back into the workforce 30 years ago. Now, James is the director of the preschool.

"I got children that they said, in kindergarten, 'They'll never read at grade level.' And they actually graduated college," said James. "We're in a poverty stricken area, and the only way I can see that they can get out of this is with an education."

The preschool was almost forced to close during the pandemic. Some parents got laid off, while others worked from home and kept their kids there.

"With them not coming in, it was just like, 'How am I going to make payroll? The kids that are here now, how am I going to feed them?'" James remembered.

The federal Child Care Stabilization Program allocated $24 billion dollars to hundreds of thousands of child care providers, including Smarty Pants Academy.

"We're open and we're gonna be here for you. I do have this money coming in and that'll help us. You just go ahead and do what you need to do, make sure your family is okay," James said of being able to stay open back then.

She said the funding allowed her to keep her prices the same and make necessary changes to keep the children safe during the pandemic. James said the business couldn't have survived without it.

"The funding that [James] received to be able to do that took a lot of the burden off of us. I was able to enjoy my children when I had time with them, because it didn't create an extra budget that I needed to have," said Ruby Taylor, a mother of three who has sent all of her children to Smarty Pants.

The federal funding expires on September 30.

The research group The Century Foundation estimates more than one thousand child care programs in Colorado could close if Congress doesn't approve more funding. According to The Century Foundation, more than 83,000 children could lose child care.

"It's harmful to many generations. It's going to create a poverty mindset that all of us are trying to get out of," said Taylor.

A group of lawmakers are working to introduce the Child Care Stabilization Act, which would provide $16 billion in mandatory funding each year for the next five years.

"Childcare is crucial economic infrastructure, allowing parents to go to work, businesses to hire workers, and it’s an investment in our kids’ futures. Without it, many working parents are faced with an impossible choice: going to work to put food on the table or staying home with their children and skipping meals. Nobody should be put in that position," said Rep. Yadira Caraveo, Colorado's 8th Congressional District. "Unfortunately, we’re facing a looming childcare cliff, with federal childcare support set to end on September 30th. I’m a proud co-sponsor of the Child Care Stabilization Act, which will extend this funding and help avert the funding cliff. This bill is an important step to care for families and support the providers who serve them."

Colorado's Department of Early Childhood told Denver7 it will continue to distribute stimulus funds until September 2024, even with the looming expiration. The recently launched Universal Preschool (UPK) program in Colorado will continue uninterrupted.

In a statement, the CDEC said it is "actively pursuing sustainable funding."

"We’ll focus on lasting change through increasing access to childcare slots, supporting the early childhood workforce through professional development, recruitment and retention efforts, and supporting families with financial childcare subsidies and wrap-around support.


CDEC is also actively pursuing sustainable funding through foundations at the local and national levels, as well as innovative federal funding opportunities. Without a strong profit margin, childcare centers cannot provide adequate quality and access, and without child care, Colorado’s parents could face economic challenges. Colorado will be working closely with Colorado Lab to evaluate the impact of the stimulus funding on the child care sector, to support sustainability efforts with pertinent and timely data."