[caption id="attachment_216953" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] In November, Gov. John Carney announced he would allocate millions for child care initiatives. One of those initiatives will be providing child care workers with a stimulus check. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING[/caption]
WILMINGTON — Gov. John Carney and his administration are planning to issue $1,500 stimulus checks to Delaware’s child care workers in early 2022 as part of the state’s continuing efforts to keep child care centers open and parents back in the workforce.The $10.6 million stimulus program would affect roughly 6,000 Delawareans that work in child care, who were among the first essential workers when the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world. It would also be the first time the Carney administration will use some of the $1 billion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for direct stimulus checks to specific workers.“It has been a major priority to support child care, not only because it helpsget mothers and fathers in the workforceand keeps the economy moving, but it also ensures education for our little ones,” Carney told the Delaware Business Times on Tuesday. “Child care is a valuable part of our state, and we believe this program will help businesses of all sizes attract and retain workers.”The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services is reportedly working on a system that will register child care employees as a way to offer up-to-date training opportunities. This system would also ease the process of identifying workers to issue the stimulus checks, according to state officials.The governor’s plan will also place Delaware in a small circle of states that are using federal ARPA funding to offer direct aid to some of its citizens. Two-thirds of Californians will qualify for a “Golden State Stimulus" for low to middle-income residents, while Florida and some areas of Texas are issuing bonuses to teachers.This stimulus program is one piece of an overarching plan to maintain and support child care centers, which never closed due to state shutdowns or otherwise during the pandemic. In November,the governor announced he would earmark $120 million in ARPA fundsto early childhood education, including millions in grants to support child care centers and a $10.6 million for a new early childhood education center at Delaware State University.In particular, the Child Care Stabilization grant program was designed as a transitional piece for facilities that still need aid while the state was ending some programs that state officials launched as soon as the pandemic arrived in Delaware. Those grants are designed to help facilities pay for expenses, such as personal protective equipment, wages and even bonuses, and are capped depending on the size of the facility.As of Dec. 10, DHSS has approved $55 million in Child Care Stabilization grants to 728 child care programs. Eighty-five percent of eligible child care programs applied and sought $68.6 million in funding.“We and others at DHSS and DSS decided to jump in and do whatever we could to support child care at that time. It was clear from watching what was happening in other states, child care was crumbling very fast and schools were closing,” Delaware Director of Division of Social Services Thomas Hall said. “I give the state a lot of credit, because they were proactive and interventive with funding programs.”
[caption id="attachment_196619" align="alignright" width="500"] Tegan Chmiel, a teacher's aide, cleans toys at Kidz Ink IV in Bear in March 2020. Delaware officials offered several state funding initiatives, later backed by federal stimulus money, to ensure child care facilities remained open for business.| DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
State funding initiativesHistorically, Delaware offers purchase of care — a state subsidy that helps centers cover 50% to 60% of tuition for low-income families — for facilities based on attendance. But when the pandemic hit in March, the state opted to continue child care providers' purchase of care based on enrollment figures, since attendance was capped for a time. At that time, child care centers were limited to taking children from families with essential workers.Closed providers received purchase of care funding based on attendance levels for days they were open. The state ultimately changed this to pay closed providers on enrollment figures fully if staff was paid or 20% of the original payment if staff were unpaid. This policy soon ended months into the pandemic.Soon after, Delaware officials agreed to expand family co-pays, a program where the state pays a proportion of tuition costs for families below the poverty line with the hope that it may get a child in a program that a family may not be able to afford on their own.Before the pandemic, DSS required family copay waivers from families. But come April 2020, it was expanded to cover all families. This policy change, which is still in effect today and reviewed on a monthly basis, costs Delaware roughly $500,000 per month.DHSS later offered full-time purchase of care payments to facilities that served as distance-learning labs for remote classrooms.As Delaware entered in its second year of the pandemic, the state overhauled the financial aid tools offered to child care facilities. Between January and July, providers were now paid the difference between Feburary 2020 attendance numbers and monthly attendance — costing the state $2 million per month.Since February, Delaware officials expanded the payable absent days to child care providers from five to 10 days per month. This change allows child care workers to get paid when staff or children need to be out of the facility due to quarantine requirements or an exposure. This initiative, reviewed on a monthly basis and still in effect today, costs the state roughly $245,000.In November, Carney unveiled the Child Care Stabilization program, and the state is reportedly looking at funding a third round with $24 million. DHSS, DSS and the Department of Education have also agreed to a spending plan for a $40 million child care development block grant as well.In Fiscal Year 2021, Delaware spent $94.3 million on the purchase of care programs, a 33% increase from Fiscal Year 2019 - the last fiscal year before the pandemic started and without the infusion of federal funding. FY 2019 saw $70.7 million spent while FY 2020 saw $89.8 million spent on these programs.