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Council needs federal and state help to stabilize child care industry

Thursday, August 6, 2020 by Nina Hernandez

Furthering its efforts to shore up the local child care industry, City Council passed three resolutions last week changing the criteria for the city’s Childcare Support Fund. In addition, Council directed City Manager Spencer Cronk to develop recommendations and take action to address child care challenges caused by Covid-19 and urged Gov. Greg Abbott to use state and federal resources to rebuild a child care infrastructure devastated by the virus.

All three items were approved Wednesday, July 29.

Item 23 amends the criteria for the Childcare Support Fund, removing the 2-star rating and allowing businesses that have received SBA Paycheck Protection Program funding to apply. Staff found that the guidelines were too strict and left out many East Austin child care facilities.

Item 89 directs Cronk to come up with his own set of recommendations for how the city can take action to help the child care industry – which is essential for a healthy economy – stay afloat throughout the pandemic. Council expects a report back by Aug. 13.

And Item 116 calls on Abbott to come up with a “clear, action-oriented plan” to use state and federal resources to assist child care facilities in remaining operational. It further suggests that Abbott provide guidance for safe operations that would mitigate the spread of Covid-19, including guidance for parents on whether to send their kids to school.

The resolution also suggests increased coordination between public health and state licensing entities, increased financial assistance for child care facility employees and increased funding for full-day child care.

Cathy McHorse with United Way for Greater Austin praised Council for its efforts, in particular the $1 million commitment it already made to the Childcare Support Fund. However, it’s going to take more than just one city government’s efforts to fix the system.

“Ultimately, it’s the inefficiencies at the state level” that are causing the instability in the system, she said. “So much of the policy and regulation is done at the state level that it’s tough to overcome with local dollars.”

In order to operate under public health recommendations, child care facilities need to work with smaller groups of kids and hire more staff to lead those extra groups. That costs money. Facilities also need to buy the additional personal protection equipment, which also costs money. And the majority of child care facilities in Austin are small businesses.

“Covid has really exacerbated and worsened an already fragile system, and the state has not responded with robust support,” McHorse said. “What we’re hoping the city can do is come up with some recommendations for how to leverage those public, private and philanthropic dollars to help stabilize the sector through the next six to 12 months.”

Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, who sponsored Item 116, has worked for years to fix the city’s child care sector. She implored the governor to act to mitigate the pandemic “before it’s too late.”

“Right now, there are so many centers facing the real possibility of closing permanently because of financial distress and Covid-19 outbreaks, and that means that families across Texas are going to be put in a position to make extremely difficult decisions about their own finances and the care they need for their kids,” she said.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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