The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has announced that $20 million in federal dollars will be used to stabilize and strengthen Nebraska’s child care infrastructure, as well as other school-based education services for children. The funding was made possible through a $3.5 billion appropriation to the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) following passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March.
The announcement comes after First Five Nebraska, in collaboration with the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, Nebraska Early Childhood Collaborative, Buffett Early Childhood Institute and Buffett Early Childhood Fund submitted policy recommendations to state and federal officials to address the most critical challenges facing the state’s early childhood system resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Jason Prokop, director of First Five Nebraska, said the allocation of dollars from CCDF has significant implications for the sustainability, quality and reach of child care services necessary to help re-start the state economy.
“We applaud Governor Ricketts and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services for recognizing the importance of quality child care to our state’s families, employers and communities. Deployment of CARES Act funds in this manner is smart policy and serves as a crucial part of Nebraska’s response and recovery plan. Today’s announcement is a lifeline to the early care and education professionals need to help our state meet this challenge head on and build back better.”
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has released approximate allocations of the CCDF funds:
- Child Care Relief Fund Grants | $267,000: Offer relief funds to child care providers who have already applied for the grant program administered by Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and the Nebraska Early Childhood Collaborative. The infusion of CARES Act dollars will fund eligible applicants still on the waitlist for relief grants.
- Child Care Provider Stabilization Grants | $8,705,000: Offer one-time grant awards to family child care homes ($3,500) and center-based programs ($5,500) to cover operational costs, rent and mortgage, staff salaries, cleaning and personal protective supplies and related needs.
- Incentive Grants for Reopening Child Care Programs | $1,000,000: Facilitate reopening of child care programs that have temporarily suspended operations during the public health emergency. Providers must commit to reopening within 30 days, participate in quality improvement initiatives and deliver care to children of low-income families or parents working in essential occupations.
- Nebraska Child Care Referral Network | $500,000: Supports continued development of a newly launched online platform to connect working parents with child care providers based on program type, children’s ages, location, participation in Step Up to Quality and Child Care Subsidy and other criteria.
- Afterschool and Summer Learning for School Age Children | $4,000,000: Supports future collaboration between DHHS and Beyond School Bells, Nebraska's After School Network with the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation.
The infusion of CARES Act funds coincides with growing concern in Nebraska and across the nation about the vulnerability of the child care industry to economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many providers have expressed doubt they would be able to successfully reopen their businesses after even a temporary closure due to the public health emergency. According to the Nebraska Department of Labor, child care was the fifth highest occupation in the state for initial unemployment claims filed between March 21 and April 25.
“Even though child care is crucially important to all sectors of business and industry, this profession offers very little financial stability even in healthy economic conditions,” said Elizabeth Everett, senior policy associate for First Five Nebraska. “CARES Act funding will give providers a better chance to weather the current crisis so working parents can return to their jobs when it is feasible to do so. But moving forward, Nebraska’s public and private sectors need to work together to build more financial resiliency into licensed child care. That starts with recognizing this industry as an indispensable part of our state’s economic infrastructure.”