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Last month was the first in two years that more than 200,000 childcare providers across the U.S. did not receive checks from the federal government—some for tens of thousands of dollars—as part of a pandemic-era program to help cover the cost of services.
The monthly payments, considered the largest investment in childcare in the U.S. history, ranged from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars and stabilized the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For years, providers had been raising alarm about an unsustainable business model that burdens families with high costs and leaves centers with razor-thin profit margins—issues only exacerbated by inflation and a significant workforce shortage.
Now, providers say that without additional investment, centers are facing the possibility of shutdown. The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank in Washington, D.C., analyzed a provider survey and government data and concluded that in six states—Arkansas, Montana, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, as well as Washington, D.C.—up to half of all providers are threatened.
Many families and providers are calling on Congress to create a permanent funding solution to the crisis, warning of the ripple effects on the nation’s already brittle economy. A Democratic proposal failed in September without any Republican support. It would have continued the grants for five years with $16 billion allocated annually.
The most at-risk providers are those in rural communities that predominately serve low-income families.
At Living Water Child Care Center in Williamson, West Virginia, a $7,000 monthly subsidy went to purchasing a new curriculum and advancing employee certifications, according to Director Jackie Branch. The investment paid off: In April, the center moved up a tier in its state quality rating, increasing its monthly stabilization funding to $11,000.
The center serves three meals a day, plus snacks. They also distribute donations such as clothes and school supplies.
Branch said it will be an uphill battle to find other grants to make up for lost funds.
This article was provided by The Associated Press.