Child care providers were among many industries that were hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has pushed early retirements and burnout across the industry, said Sarah Allen Taylor, of the Child Care Coordinating Council of the North Country. “We were already expecting a high rate of child care attrition, but it has accelerated in most places.”
This could mean that there are even fewer places available, and families and employers are feeling the pinch, as without childcare many parents find it difficult to return to work, especially women.
New grant program
That’s where new funding for the Child Care Deserts Grant comes in, a new state initiative funded by federal stimulus funds. It is investing $70 million to get new providers up and running across the state.
Nora Yates of the state Office of Family and Children’s Services said that before this program, all of their pandemic efforts were on emergency funding, trying to keep already existing providers open. Now they are trying to look forward. “The Child Care Desert initiative is finally looking to the future and is truly looking to create new programs and new providers where we desperately need them.”
It works like this: People interested in becoming child care providers can receive help applying and licensing, and then money to help cover start-up costs once they get started. are open.
Details of the grant program can be found on the OFCS website. Local child care resource and referral organizations have staff available to help you.
Since late January, when the state announced the program, Yates says he has received more than 1,400 applications. The application portal opens in April and closes in May, so she says if you’re interested in becoming a childcare provider, now is the time.
One piece of the puzzle
A number of child care experts across the state have said they are cautiously optimistic about the Child Care Deserts grants. Dede Hill is the policy director of the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, a nonprofit organization focused on low-income families in New York City.
“Desert funding is really exciting. It’s a real opportunity for New York. However, it will only be effective if it’s one of many strategies to deal with the custody crisis. children of the state.”
Hill’s concern, echoed by her peers, is that child care as a business model was broken before the pandemic, and still is. “We could end up in a situation where we have new child care programs closing in six months because the business model isn’t working.”
She says child care still needs to be made more affordable for more families, and child care workers need to be paid a living wage.
New York budget could change the industry
The good news is that more child care support in New York could very well be on the way. Governor Kathy Hochul proposed major child care funding increases in her first executive budget proposal: including expanding grants to include more families and providing more infrastructure support for service providers of child care.
In mid-March, the New York Senate and Assembly released their own budget proposals, which were even more ambitious than Hochul’s.
Hill called the proposals potentially transformational, “particularly the Senate proposal would result in significant sustained investments in the child care workforce, as well as child care subsidies, expanding subsidies to many other families.
She says this kind of policy change and support would go a long way to making the childcare profession more attractive and financially viable. It’s absolutely crucial to attracting more providers into the system, child care advocates and experts say.
Rose Blanchard worked as a childcare provider for 16 years before joining the Child Care Coordinating Council of the North Country, the childcare resource and referral center for Franklin Counties, Essex and Clinton.
She sees the new DESERT funding as a real step forward and a change in how New York deals with child care.
“The exciting aspect of this funding is the focus on the importance of child care. It’s really about promoting a whole program approach to supporting providers. It’s not just about getting them fired, it’s about preparing them for long-term support and stability.
Bureaucracy could still get in the way
But Blanchard and other child care advocates say there are also a lot of potential challenges with grant funding.
The program provides no start-up funds, only giving money to vendors once they are already up and running. This could exclude many potential suppliers.
Blanchard says it’s also a tight deadline, in a licensing process that’s notoriously detailed and time-consuming, “…you know, paint testing, radon testing, water quality testing, and then there are training requirements. The timeframe to qualify for these funds can be difficult for providers, but I know we are working to support a number of them through the process.”
She hopes new providers will enter a system that they want and are financially able to stay. Proponents say it depends on the state budget and continued investment in childcare as a public good.