Aug 7, 2020

State launches $12 million child care relief grant program

The state launched a new child care relief program on Friday that will provide $12 million in grants to help providers with coronavirus expenses and deficits.

The Operational Relief Grant program, which is funded by federal relief dollars, is open for applications through Aug. 26.

“Like schools, child care programs need more resources to operate safely right now. But unlike schools, child care programs are not ensured public funding,” said Aly Richards, the CEO of Let’s Grow Kids, a statewide child care advocacy group. “So a grant program like this is absolutely crucial in this moment.”

Child care and afterschool programs, summer day camps, parent child centers and agencies that funded local children’s integrated services via telehealth are eligible to apply for the funds. Award notices are expected by Sept. 11.

The grant program covers incurred and anticipated income losses and expenses between March 1 and Oct. 31. But with no end in sight for the pandemic, that has left Richards worried about what is to come in November and beyond.

“Either this will need extending, or there needs to be another plan for after October 31,” she said.

“These resources are absolutely necessary to support child care right now. These programs are fully operating, and some since the beginning of the pandemic,” she said. “And it was difficult, expensive and under-valued before Covid-19, so now child care programs are operating in an even more expensive and challenging environment, often at great cost to their programs and themselves.”

Betsy Bishop, the president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, says she hopes the program is able to be streamlined.

“With our experience with the grant programs for other businesses, I would encourage this grant program to be done quickly,” she said. “Frankly, it’s August, and schools are opening soon. And between that and child care, any kind of efficient delivery method to these child care providers would be really important.”

Bishop said the pandemic has put “an even finer point” on the importance of child care.

“In order to have a successful economic recovery — and to reopen safely — we need to have a safe environment and an open environment for our children to go to,” she said. “So if there are grant funds to help child care businesses to deal with some of the reopening and recovery needs, whatever those grants are for, to have a safe reopening, we think that’s important.”

Richards said child care providers have had to endure a multitude of new expenses while many stayed open during the initial coronavirus lockdown, including personal protective equipment, extra staff and cleaning supplies.

The state previously provided child care and summer programs with a “restart stipend” to help cover some Covid-related expenses.

“I’ve long talked about how critical good-quality child care is for Vermont, giving kids a strong foundation and supporting working families,” Gov. Phil Scott said at his press conference Friday. “The state has worked to support these small businesses throughout the pandemic, but we know many of them continue to struggle.”

With programs strapped for cash, Richards said she hopes the timeline is realistic.

“It is fairly quick for things like this,” she said. “The bottom line is, the sooner the better. I do hope programs can hold on until September 11, just basically through the creative juggling they’ve been doing to date. And then this will be a very, very welcome relief once it’s there.”

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