HELENA — The COVID-19 pandemic forced many childcare providers across Montana to drastically reduce the number of kids they can care for, or even close their doors altogether.
There is now $10 million through the CARES Act Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG) available to providers to help them get back on their feet and provide services again.
The block grants can also provide assistance for low-income families participating in the Best Beginnings Scholarship Program, and emergency temporary childcare for essential workers.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Montana, restrictions forced Rocky Mountain Development Council (RMDC) to close their preschool to kids for five weeks.
RMDC Preschool Director Hannah Danzer says they’re thankful to be able to welcome back children this week.
“There’s providers that aren’t going to come back because they can’t come back from this,” said Danzer. “It’s heartbreaking and sad because we already don’t have enough child care in our community.”
While RMDC is able to reopen, they’re only at around a quarter of their capacity. In order to help the group recover, they are going to tap into a portion of the $10 million dollars by applying for a grant through the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS).
DPHHS officials say that Montana can’t afford to lose childcare services.
“Childcare is an absolute necessity in terms of the infrastructure for supporting the economy, and of course in providing early childhood education for the children,” said Jamie Palagi, Early Childhood and Family Support Division administrator.
Approximately half of the CCDBG funding will provide assistance to existing licensed and registered childcare providers. Funding can be used to continue paying staff, increased cleaning, or to increase safety measures.
There are more than 800 licensed childcare providers in the state, with many operating on tight budgets.
“The business of childcare doesn’t generally have a huge reserve in terms of their operating margin,” said Palagi. “We know they rely heavily on parent fees and we hope this money can help them remain in business or resume operations as soon as they are able to.”
Providers registered to care for up to six children are eligible for a $3,000 emergency payment, group providers for seven-to-12 children can receive $5,000 and centers licensed for 13 or more children are eligible for $8,000.
For childcare providers like RMDC, the funds represent a much-needed lifeline for continuing to help families. “It’s going to get us back on track and just being able to offer the care that we’re used to offering,” said Danzer.
Click here for more information about the funding, including how to apply for the grant.