Officials who deal with child care issues in Missouri have said the pandemic exacerbated a crisis for providing child care and the system has not rebounded from these challenges.
How to rebuild the infrastructure of child care in the state was the focus of the Child Care Funding Webinar which the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry recently hosted.
Gov. Mike Parson’s administration is making addressing this crisis a priority. The Missouri Chamber worked with the administration and lawmakers to secure $20 million in funding in the last legislative session. This will be available to be used for child care needs of small businesses and essential workers.
In all, Missouri has allocated nearly $1 billion in federal relief funds to sustain and develop the child care industry and increase access to child care for Missourians. Some of this funding will be available to Missouri employers.
Rep. Betsy Fogle serves on the Missouri House Appropriations Committee and was instrumental in getting these funds approved in this past legislative session.
“Families at all economic levels were telling me they are having issues finding quality and affordable child care services,” Fogle said. “Many child care facilities are full and can’t take any more kids.”
The funds approved by lawmakers for child care improvements are a great example, Fogle said, of how legislators can work across the aisle to move the state forward.
“Child care can’t look like one thing, because child care needs are so different depending on where you live and the needs of your family,” Fogle said. “We want an economy that works for everybody, and we can’t have that if individuals can’t enter into the workforce.”
In 2021, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the Missouri Chamber released a report examining the impact of child care challenges on Missouri’s economy. The report showed the cost of child care challenges and opportunities to unlock economic potential for employers and working parents.
The report also found that Missouri misses an estimated $1.35 billion annually for the state’s economy, including a $280 million annual loss in tax revenue, due to child care issues. Additionally, 28% of respondents reported that they or someone in their household has left a job, not taken a job, or greatly changed jobs because of problems with child care in the last 12 months.
“These are shocking statistics and something we know is not good for our economy, not good for our families and not good for our children when they don’t have a safe place to go during the day,” Fogle said.
Dr. Pam Thomas is Director of the Office of Childhood and oversees the early childhood education programs in Missouri. This office was recently created by Gov. Parson and is within the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“We’re working on a two-pronged approach to strengthening the child care system,” Thomas said. “It’s about workforce and access.”
For workforce, Thomas said they need to recruit more providers into the child care industry and build the capacity of existing providers if they are going to be able to retain them.
“For access, it’s about finding entities that want to start up child care to support employees, and that could include essential workers or those at small businesses,” Thomas said. “We really want to look at rural areas where we have little or no options.”
Three grants are currently open to help support the child care workforce. They are intended to help recruit and retain child care workers.
1 – One multiple-pronged grant specifically focuses on retention of staff, another would be for annual training costs for staff and the third is for paycheck protection. The closing date to get each grant application into the office is Nov. 30.
“Money from these funds will also be available in 2023 and 2024, so it won’t be just this one opportunity,” Thomas said.
2 – Along with these grants, the application is now open for new child care programs that want to support children of essential workers. These can be state employees, health care employees and emergency responders. Those new child care programs that aim to use 25% of their overall capacity to serve children of essential workers in their community are able to apply.
“We want to make sure these applications are in counties that have state facilities like correctional facilities, hospitals and long-term care facilities, particularly in rural areas,” Thomas said. “There will be increased funds if that program wants to also serve non-traditional hours, such as evenings and weekends, as many essential workers work varying hours, not the typical 9-5 shift.”
3 – Another grant being made available is for child care operations that intend to have at least 25% of their total capacity be children of workers employed at small businesses, which would be defined as having fewer than 500 employees. They would target areas that have very few or no child care programs.
“Applicants for the small business child care grant would need a letter of support from at least one small business in the community that explains the need,” Thomas said. “There would also need to be a short description of how the program is going to support the community and the small businesses there.”
To watch the entire webinar, go to mocahmber.dreamhosters.com/events.