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COVID relief grants gave $98 million of support to Nebraska child care providers

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Federal pandemic relief funds delivered Nebraska child care providers a $98 million lifeline over the past nine months, according to state officials.

Reports from the Department of Health and Human Services show that 2,269 providers — or 80% of all licensed child care centers, family child care homes and preschools — have gotten help through the Child Care Stabilization Grant program since October.

Stephanie Beasley, children and family services director for HHS, said the money has been critical in supporting a key part of the state’s economy and in keeping quality child care available for children and working parents.

“The successful grant cycles impacted the statewide provider network and brought stability and reliability to a vital industry in Nebraska,” she said. “The (grants) also ensure Nebraska families have access to quality child care options and the child care workforce is rewarded for the important work they do each day for the benefit of Nebraska children.”

State officials established the grant program with Nebraska’s share of some $24 billion in federal child care relief dollars provided through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Nebraska’s portion amounted to $140 million. State officials awarded a total of $104 million in two rounds of grants, with the bulk of the money already disbursed. The last $6 million is set to be disbursed to second-round recipients in September.

An agency spokesman said HHS officials are working on plans to distribute the remaining $36 million and will be making an announcement when they are final.

Susan Sarver, director of workforce planning and development with the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska, said the stabilization grants “really helped” providers keep their doors open and called the 80% response rate “pretty tremendous.”

Grants were awarded in every county with at least one licensed child care provider. Twelve Nebraska counties have no licensed facilities.

Sarver said the stabilization grants were in addition to money provided through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, an earlier COVID relief program.

Surveys done by the Buffett Institute found that most providers used COVID funds to pay rent and utilities, followed by purchasing personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies, buying general goods and services for their business, improving their facilities and boosting wages and benefits.

However, the surveys also showed that Nebraska child care providers continue to struggle, Sarver said. The most recent survey found that two-thirds of providers made less money in the past year, staff turnover was widespread and nine in 10 providers employing staff had difficulty hiring for open positions.

“There is still a lot of stress and pressure on the system,” she said.

Nationally, the pandemic exacerbated the shortage of reliable and affordable child care, which in turn has restricted the growth of the broader economy. The shortage forced many people — mostly women — to leave the workforce and contributed to a deepening labor shortage.

A shortage of child care options creates particular problems in Nebraska. Pre-pandemic figures showed that more than 76% of Nebraska children under age 6 lived in homes where all adults worked, higher than the national average of 68%.

 

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