LITTLE ROCK — The economic impact of the covid-19 pandemic was especially hard for child care centers, so the Arkansas Department of Human Services is administering about $286 million to help them cover expenses and remain in business.
So far, about $110 million of the relief funding has been sent to child care providers, according to the department’s Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education.
The relief funds go to providers that were licensed on or before March 11, 2021.
In addition to helping centers cover expenses related to the pandemic, they are being used also to expand and improve child care. The Division director said that the funds should help them emerge from the pandemic stronger than they were before.
Some centers have used their grants to build new playgrounds, storm shelters and fencing. Grants may be spent on mortgage payments and utilities. Others have used grants to pay staff and update computer systems. Others have installed new flooring and added classroom space.
One purpose of the federal relief program is to eliminate gaps in the availability of child care in some parts of the state. A particular area may lack available care for toddlers and infants, or after school care. Existing child care providers that were licensed on March 11 of last year are encouraged to take advantage of grants to expand their range of services.
The Human Services Department administers the program, which is paid for with federal funding through the American Rescue Plan.
It is just one of several ways the state helps make child care available. Low-income families may qualify for financial assistance to help pay for child care. The level of benefits is based on a sliding scale, depending on your income.
People who work 30 hours a week, or attend school full time, may apply. If you are turned down, someone at your local DHS office can inform you why you did not qualify, and they can inform you about other programs that may be available to you, such as food stamps, transitional employment assistance, Head Start and Arkansas Better Chance.
Child care has become extremely important in recent decades, because two-thirds of all children under 5 now live in homes where both parents work. In Arkansas, mothers make up 45% of the breadwinners in families, so staying home is not an option.
The average annual cost of placing an infant in child care centers is $7,500 a year in Arkansas.
In Arkansas there are slots for 171,845 children in child care centers. In after school programs there are 26,297 slots.
On average, breakdowns in the availability of child care force parents to miss work between one and four days every six months. This not only has a negative financial effect on the parents, but also on the overall productivity of the national economy. When child care is affordable and readily available, parents can focus on improving their job skills and their productivity.
Most parents have to return to the work force by the time their newborn baby is four months old. High quality child care gives kids a solid foundation in math, literacy and social skills so that they are prepared for kindergarten and elementary school.
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Editor’s note: Arkansas Sen. Cecile Bledsoe represents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Senate Health Committee.