Idaho childcare advocates pushing for extended grants to keep businesses afloat | Regional News


Originally published Jan. 12 on KTVB.COM.

BOISE — A new report from the Idaho First Steps Alliance is drawing attention to childcare costs in the Gem State. Advocates warn that if grant programs run by the Department of Health and Welfare expire at the end of the fiscal year, June of this year, childcare businesses across Idaho could be forced into untenable situations.

Emily Allen is a policy associate for Idaho Voices for Children. She explains, if lawmakers do not renew remaining relief funding requested by Health and Welfare, childcare businesses will suffer massively.

“The pandemic hit the childcare industry really hard, and they are really struggling to recover,” Allen said. “There have been a few measures that have kept doors open over these last three years, but we have to continue to keep those going so that working families have access to childcare because as we all know, if you have small children, childcare is part of your village, you have to have childcare in order for your life to function.”

The pandemic helped illustrate that childcare businesses are tough to keep afloat because of wages and available resources to child care in Idaho.

“It’s a super fragile revenue stream and during the pandemic, when there were closures, mandated closures and things like that, we saw childcare providers lose their revenue, just kind of fall out from under them. At the same time, parents are really not able to pay much more at this point. Childcare costs are very high in many counties across the state. Childcare for two kids exceeds what you would pay for housing. And we know that housing affordability across the state of Idaho is a big issue,” Allen said.

The report from Idaho Voice for Children shows that some families spend more on childcare than they would on in-state college tuition.

“You could be at the beginning of your career, you’re starting out your family and you’re paying just as much as parents who are sending their kids off 20 years later to an in-state institution,” Allen said.

Allen said their research found that nearly eight out of 10 childcare business owners have used the grant programs to keep their businesses open since the early months of the pandemic. In fact, nine counties across Idaho, Bear Lake, Benewah, Boise, Caribou, Franklin, Idaho, Lincoln, Power and Shoshone, saw every single provider receive grant funding.

“Grants will expire this year unless legislators take action,” Allen said. “So the spending authority is only extended from the Idaho legislature to June 30th, 2023, which is the end of this fiscal year, unless they take action this session to continue those really important grants that have kept doors open.”

If those grants aren’t renewed Allen said that there will be walkouts and closures. 

“They’re not going to be able to continue those wage enhancement grants on their own,” Allen said. “So they’re very concerned that they’ll be unable to continue providing resources to their community.”

A focus of Governor Brad Little’s State of the State address centers on funding education in Idaho, but it still needs legislative approval. His budget includes $15 million for childcare infrastructure. 

“That was for the childcare expansion program. It addresses the shortage issue, it starts to chip away at this lack of availability,” Allen said.

She added that what is really important is that the funding for the childcare industry needs to keep moving forward.

“15 million on top of another 15 million from last year is a meaningful amount of money that we are very grateful to see on the table for sure,” Allen said.

However, the Department of Health and Welfare grants will be a major factor.

“Yeah, they’re part and parcel, right. Because we want to stabilize the existing availability. We cannot risk losing more childcare providers. We need to keep those open,” Allen said. “But we also have to have another eye on expanding availability and lifting up new providers who want to come in and start a business in the state of Idaho, or existing businesses who have really strong reputations and want to expand seats and dependent finally to provide services to their long waitlists. And so, it’s a twofold solution to this ongoing problem.”

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