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State Ends Pandemic Relief for Child Care

 

Brian Schmidt, Kids Win Missouri

 

The Department of Social Services announced on Wednesday that it was reverting to pre-pandemic support for child care. The announcement may force child care providers to stop offering services to working families receiving benefits under the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program, loosen compliance with CDC-recommended health and safety guidelines or some combination of these actions.

The announcement comes two weeks after Governor Parson visited child care providers across the state in an effort to highlight the need of children having a safe, quality place to be while families return to work. An August 18th statement from the Governor’s official facebook page indicated the importance of the relief in ensuring child care is available to working families.

The pandemic relief is needed to ensure working families have safe, reliable and quality child care. We at Kids Win Missouri are struggling to understand why the state would end the relief now, especially at a time when the virus is spreading in communities across the state at such a rapid pace. According to our research, the state has access to tens of millions of dollars in its annual allocation of federal CCDBG funding and unspent CARES Act child care relief funding that it could use to continue providing pandemic relief, so it shouldn’t be a problem of having the funds to pay for it.

The CCDBG program supports child care for more than 27,000 children monthly. The program primarily serves families providing foster care, adoptive families and families with low incomes. Over the past decade, there has been a 41% reduction in children served by the CCDBG program as well as a 60% reduction in providers offering child care to working families enrolled in the program.  This troubling trend in a program designed to assist high-need families is underscored by a just-released report by Child Care Aware of Missouri, which shows that 1 in 3 licensed child care providers remain closed due to the pandemic, with 8 counties in Missouri not having any licensed child care options for families.

Child care providers are working to comply with CDC-recommended guidelines, including reduced teacher to child ratios, changes to physical spaces, the use of personal protective equipment and additional health and safety procedures, adding staff and equipment costs to their traditional operations. Kids Win Missouri documented these challenges in a report the organization released in June. The state’s pandemic relief payments helped offset these costs, but reverting to pre-pandemic program payments will cause many providers to receive less support from the state than they would have under normal conditions. As a result, providers will likely have to make a difficult choice to either stop offering services to families enrolled in the CCDBG program, not follow CDC-recommended guidelines and put staff, children and families at a greater risk of COVID-19 exposure or some combination of the two actions.

We’re not alone in our concerns. Our partners at Aligned are worried not only about the immediate impact the decision will have on working families who rely on the program so parents can work but also the long-term implications of whether child care providers will be around to serve families beyond the pandemic. We agree with Aligned that our workforce is strong when working parents know their children are in safe and reliable care. The state’s decision to end pandemic relief will only add stress to an already stressed-out workforce.

Kids Win Missouri is urging state department leaders and the Governor to reverse this decision and continue providing the pandemic relief, so children and families can continue to access safe, reliable child care options.

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