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Virginia invests more than $203M to expand access to child care, increase support for providers

Published: Apr. 2, 2021 at 11:48 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ/Governor’s Office Release) - Governor Ralph Northam has announced an additional $203.6 million in federal stimulus funds and expanded eligibility criteria for the Child Care Subsidy Program will help further stabilize Virginia’s early childhood care and education system. The governor says it will also provide child care assistance to additional families as they seek stable employment or return to work, and deliver operational and technical resources to new and returning child care providers.

First Lady Pamela Northam and House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn celebrated the new investments during a virtual meeting of the Northam Administration’s Children’s Cabinet.

“Early educators have been diligent and dedicated to keeping children safe and meeting the needs of our youngest Virginians since the early days of this public health crisis,” said Governor Northam. “As we emerge from the pandemic, the strength of our recovery will depend upon our ability to help families return to the workforce and provide quality, affordable options for early childhood care and education. These additional investments will help address the challenges child care providers are facing and ensure we can continue to deliver critical resources to those most in need now and into the future.”

While nearly 90 percent of child care center programs have reopened, Northam said, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in ongoing staffing challenges, revenue shortfalls, and increased operational costs for many providers. Through the additional funding, Virginia will continue to provide stabilization grants to sustain current providers and help closed providers re-open, as well as retention bonuses and scholarships for child care educators. To support families and children in areas where there are few or no options, Virginia will also offer grants to help open new programs.

“I’m grateful to the legislators for their support of our littlest learners during another successful General Assembly session,” said First Lady Northam. “This funding will help our superhero educators continue to support Virginia’s most valuable asset—our children.”

The expansion of the Child Care Subsidy Program is a result of House Bill 2206, signed into law by Governor Northam, which establishes a new short-term eligibility category for parents seeking financial assistance for child care while they are looking for employment, and temporarily expands income eligibility guidelines for families with young children. The new income eligibility levels allow families with a household income of up to 85 percent of the state median income to apply if they have children under age five, or not yet in kindergarten, to qualify. Funding for the new eligibility category comes from federal coronavirus relief funds dedicated to child care assistance that Virginia received through the December 2020 stimulus package.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the immense value of quality, accessible child care for Virginia families,” said Filler-Corn (D), who sponsored the bill. “These times have been incredibly hard on parents balancing the need to put food on the table while having to look after their children at home. I thank Governor Northam for signing this legislation which will help lighten the burden on many working families by making quality child care more affordable during this public health crisis. I am thankful to have received the bipartisan support of my colleagues in the House and Senate as we work to protect families and build the foundation for a better Virginia.”

The additional federal funding is designed to support families and child care providers by enabling the Commonwealth to:

· Waive co-payments for families in April, May, and June to reduce financial hardship and support children’s access to care.

· Increase absence days so providers and families can manage occurrences where child care providers may temporarily need to close or children may need to quarantine.

· Build the foundation for a statewide mental health consultation program to assist child care providers in helping children through this difficult time.

· Issue a fourth round of child care stabilization grants to eligible open providers in the Commonwealth.

· Provide funding for grants and contracts to support increased access to child care in underserved communities.

· Supplement the state’s child care educator incentive program, so eligible educators in child care centers and family day homes that receive public funding, such as the Child Care Subsidy Program, are now eligible for up to $2,000 this year to strengthen quality and reduce turnover.

“We know that access to quality early childhood care and education has been a concern for many working families, even before the pandemic,” said S. Duke Storen, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services. “Over the past year, enrollment in our Child Care Subsidy Program has declined by 32 percent, further demonstrating the financial burden families have continued to experience amidst the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. As Virginians return to school and work, we must not only ensure the available supply of child care to meet the increased demand, but also continue to make investments to maintain a strong child care system.”

For more information about child care assistance in Virginia, visit ChildCareVA.com. Families can learn more about expanded eligibility and how to apply here.

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