WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — Federal funding that helped day cares across the country stay open during and after the pandemic is at risk of running out.
By the end of this week, a temporary COVID-19 program is expected to stop.
Data from the State Childcare Resource and Referral Council shows that 89 percent of programs are using the childcare stabilization grant to increase salaries and 79 percent used the funds to provide bonuses to workers.
More than 80 percent of those centers said they would not be able to maintain the current salary levels once the funding goes away. Many day care owners worry they’ll have to lay off staff, cut back on services or turn families away.
“You have a limited amount of child care, and then it will be in demand again,” said June Miller, who owns Maxx Kinder Kollege in Winston-Salem. “So that’s going to put a lot of people in positions where they can’t go to work or they lose their job. And then it just starts a whole different cycle.”
Maxx Kinder Kollege is one of nearly 4,500 childcare providers in North Carolina receiving money from the child care stabilization grant. Owner June Miller has used the funds to help give employees a two to three-dollar-per-hour raise, which has been a big help in attracting staff.
“Especially when you have some child care facilities that were only able to pay even workers with two-year degrees,” said Miller. “They were only able to pay them coming in maybe $12 to $13 an hour, so to increase their pay up to $15 to $16 an hour, that was a big increase.”
The owner of Wishview Children’s Center in Greensboro told FOX8 she used part of the grant to provide scholarships for students in need.
When the grants end, it’ll be hard for providers to hire educated and experienced staff. They’ll have to increase parent fees, making child care less accessible and affordable to families. The quality of childcare programs will suffer.
“Some facilities, if they are not financially stable at this point, they will have to shut their doors,” said Miller.
It’s already started in Forsyth County.
“We’ve had probably 10 family child care homes closed within the past year, and we really have a child care desert per se,” said Katura Jackson, the executive director for the Child Care Resource Center of Winston-Salem.
Many programs are on a six-month to year-long waitlist for children younger than four years old. Providers fear it will only get worse when they’re no longer getting the extra help. It’s why they’re advocating for more early education funding.
“Make early education a part of the whole education system,” said Jackson. “I often say that when a child turns 5, it’s like our tax dollars pick up. They cover the cost of the teachers. They cover the cost of the transportation to the program. But then from birth to five years … families are kind of left out there on their own. And so how do we make that system whole?”
As of now, there’s no long-term fix to the problem. The state has enough funding to extend the American Rescue Plan Act funds through December of this year. At the end of last week, lawmakers approved the state budget, which includes using about $100 million to keep the funds going to day cares through June of 2024.