Gov. Cooper last week signed a measure that sets aside $805 million in new funding for early childhood education centers statewide that’ve been hurt financially by the pandemic.
Why it matters: Even before the pandemic, the child care industry was struggling mightily with issues such as retaining qualified workers. COVID-19 added to the industry’s financial woes.
- In a recent survey, 20% of child care providers in North Carolina said that without additional financial support, they are at risk of closing within the next six months, I reported in August.
- The child care services industry is down 126,700 workers, representing a more than a 10% decline from pre-pandemic employment levels, the Washington Post reported last month, citing Labor Department data.
- The hiring situation is more dire in child care than it is in restaurants, per the Post.
“The pay is absolute crap for what’s required for the position,” former child care provider Tanzie Roberts told the paper.
Details: Centers that qualify for the North Carolina Child Care Stabilization Grants can use the money for a range of needs, including: personnel costs; payments for rent, mortgage, utilities, facility maintenance or insurance; PPE; equipment and supplies.
- All private, licensed child care facilities are eligible to apply. These include: for-profit and nonprofit, family child care homes, and faith-based centers, Cooper’s office said in a statement. Applications will be open from Oct. 11 through Oct. 31.
- Grants will range from $3,000-$60,000.
- Child care providers can opt in for additional funds for compensation purposes, according to the state DDHS, which is administering the program.
- The funding comes from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act.
Zoom out: Many companies have raised pay during the pandemic to attract and retain, including Costco, Walmart and Bank of America. In many cases, child care centers simply can’t compete.
North Carolina’s new funding provides a “desperately needed, important infusion” to the child care industry, says Janet Singerman, president and CEO Child Care Resources Inc.
- CCRI is a nonprofit that provides resources and education to childcare facilities in Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Union, Rowan and Stanly counties.
- CCRI will provide provide technical assistance to child care providers navigating the application process.
The funds will both help stabilize a struggling industry and help set it up for future improvement, Singerman says. The salary assistance part of the program, in particular, will help tackle the industry’s ongoing worker shortage.
What’s next: Long-term, she added, child care in the U.S. will require more substantial funding from the federal government. Singerman and others in her field have referred to the industry as the “workforce behind the workforce,” meaning it’s crucial to helping Americans, particularly women, return to the workforce.
- The latest national jobs report shows women leaving the labor market drove a decline in the overall labor force participation rate.
“In child care, families cannot afford to pay more. Child care program operators cannot charge more and stay in business. Workers cannot afford to be paid less. This requires an infusion of resources,” she said.