COLORADO SPRINGS — Childcare could become harder to find in the coming weeks and months as a pandemic-era federal subsidy for providers is ending. Federal funds for childcare are expected to expire on September 30th.
In 2021, The American Rescue Plan Act gave $24 billion through childcare stabilization grants. Childcare providers could use the grant money to help pay for employees' wages, program materials, and supplies.
With The Child Care Stabilization grants expiring next week, industry analysts said many families could lose access to child care.
The Century Foundation predicts more than three million children nationwide will lose access to childcare and seventy thousand childcare programs are likely to close. In Colorado, over one thousand childcare programs could close, and more than five thousand childcare jobs are expected to be lost.
Alma Wiley has been providing family childcare in her home for 29 years.
“Most of us are already full, there is no room for those kids to shuffle for what closes,” Wiley said.
Wiley is also the president of the Pikes Peak Region Family Childcare Association. She said when she began Alma Wiley Family Home Care there were around 700 childcare providers between family home care and child care centers. Wiley said now, there are only 400 in El Paso County.
“I just filled two kids off my waitlist, this year, one waited 18 months to get in with me,” Wiley said.
Wiley said she has 42 kids on her wait list for one opening next year.
“We do need every center and childcare provider, school district that is offering before and after school programs. We need them all because there is still not enough space right now,” Wiley said.
Wiley received nine federal funding payments in 2022, totaling nearly 10 thousand dollars.
“If they would have got out sooner it would have had a greater impact, but many centers and family child care struggled for many months,” Wiley said.
Early Connections Learning Center in Colorado Springs also got assistance from federal funds.
“Thankfully ARPA funds came through with the sustainability dollars and that was a game changer for us and kept our doors open,” Denson said.
Liz Denson is the CEO and President of Early Connections Learning Center. She said they use the money to help make payroll when the pandemic hits.
“It meant we could continue to pay our staff, keep our staff employed which was one of our biggest goals as well. Without those funds I am not sure what we would have done,” Denson said.
According to Denson, Early Connections Learning Center got nine payments in 2022 and one more this year, totaling $600,000 from the child care stabilization grants. One major revenue stream that Early Connections Learning Center relies on is its children's attendance.
“Our enrollment dropped dramatically. At the beginning of 2020 we were at 95% enrolled by July of that year we were at 50. That is huge,” Denson said.
With fewer children in the classrooms during the pandemic, less money was coming through the doors. Denson said it was a challenge because they did not start receiving payments until February 2022.
“If half the class is absent that day for whatever reason, we still have to pay the teacher to be there. Childcare is one of the most expensive models and industries to operate because of the highly specialized nature of our a teacher it requires a lot of hands-on, it is very hard work, you can’t work from home for example. So being able to provide for our teachers and pay them is absolutely critical to keep our doors open,” Denson said.
Denson says when child care centers close there are large ripple effects.
“Let's say a child care center only serves 15 children, that is at least 15 families or potentially thirty parents who now have nowhere to care for their children during the day when they are trying to work or go to school. Parents can not work when they don't have childcare, if COVID taught us anything it taught us that,” Denson said.
Both Denson and Wiley said it is crucial for childcare funding to continue.
“I don't know where the money should come from, but somehow we got to figure it out and get the money into childcare,” Wiley said.
A Bill was introduced in Congress this month to continue childcare assistance grants.
“I am hopeful that some of the things that are being talked about now will come to fruition and be able to provide that additional support to our industry,” Denson said.
If the bill is passed, it would provide $16 billion in mandatory funding each year for the next five years to continue the childcare stabilization grant program.
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