It could be mid-May or later before some child care providers get state stipends promised to them as part of a coronavirus relief package. Providers worry they may not be able to hold out that long.
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Desperate child care providers who look after state-subsidized children are anxiously waiting on a much-needed one-time stipend of $525 per child promised by Gov. Gavin Newsom back in February.
The stipends, which could tally in the thousands for some providers, might mean the difference between staying open or turning out the lights.
So far, child care providers have not gotten a single dollar of that relief. The payment process involves federal money disbursed to California then routed through state agencies to local organizations that will pay providers directly.
The state departments of education and social services, which oversee child care programs, are in charge of getting this money distributed. Social Services said in an email that money should be going out this month to local organizations, which then have 30 days to pay providers. The Department of Education said checks to contractors were being mailed April 12 and providers should be paid by those local organizations between April 30th and May 15.
“The (Department of Education) understands the importance and urgency of funds to be disbursed to child care providers in a timely manner,” wrote spokesperson Jonathan Mendick in an email. “Stipends are going out to direct contractors (April 12) from the State Controller’s Office, about three weeks after the funds were made available to the department.”
Social Services has contracted with the Foundation for California Community Colleges to distribute its portion of the money.
“The Foundation is working as quickly as possible to distribute the funds,” department spokesperson Scott Murray wrote in an email. “Most providers should receive their stipend payment by the end of April.”
Meanwhile, child care advocates are worried most providers won’t get paid until sometime in May, says Denyne Colburn, CEO of the California Alternative Payment Program Association, a member organization representing dozens of community contractors across California that connect eligible families with child care and facilitate payments.
“This is not a nicety, it’s a necessity,” Colburn said. “I know the state is dealing with a multitude of issues but we are talking about reopening the economy and these providers never closed, and those that did close are not reopening, so we should be bending over backward to keep providers stable.”
The state has lost more than 8,500 licensed child care sites in the last year and three in ten jobs in child care have been lost during the pandemic. Advocates say the sting from those closures hasn’t truly been felt, but will be when the economy fully reopens and parents start to look for care that is no longer there.
That’s why child care providers are so frustrated by the slow process and point to federal stimulus payouts to Americans in need that happened seemingly overnight.
For Sylvia Hernandez, who runs Blossom To Success Child Care in Van Nuys out of her home, the stipend will be a lifeline.
“It’s going to help me stay afloat. I don’t have an emergency fund anymore. I used up my savings account and used my credit cards to make ends meet,” she said. “I’m trying here to survive and stay open for my community and it’s getting tougher.”
Hernandez experienced a 65% spike in operating expenses throughout the pandemic to keep her child care open. That included spending nearly $9,000 on cleaning supplies last year and paying $133 a month for upgraded internet.
Hernandez hired professional sanitizers to come in and deep clean on a regular basis, plus a daily cleaning person to wipe down toys and surfaces between uses and an extra assistant to help with virtual learning. She had to boost her WiFi for the kids who log in to school, transformed a bedroom in her home into a classroom, and bought extra food and supplies. Her utility bills also skyrocketed as she took in kids before sunrise and kept some until after midnight to accommodate parents’ work schedules.
“When I heard about the stipend I was excited and it’s going to help us but now we are in April and I haven’t seen it,” said Hernandez, who is licensed to care for up to 14 children. “I need the help now.”
Hernandez’s stipend would be $9,450, she said.
Newsom promised the stipends on Feb. 23 as part of the state stimulus plan. Every child care provider who had state-subsidized children enrolled in November 2020 will receive $525 per child to help support their operations after a year of increased costs due to sanitizing, social distancing requirements, virtual learning and closures due to COVID-19 exposures.
The stipend was part of a preliminary agreement between the state and the newly formed Child Care Providers United union, which is in negotiations with the state over its first labor contract for state-subsidized child care providers.
The problem, Colburn said, is it took the state a month for the funds to move to the agencies that oversee child care. From there it’s taken more time for the orders to be processed through the controller’s office or through other channels before checks are set to go out to local contractors on their way to providers like Hernandez.
The Education Department is handling the majority of the stipends as it oversees a wide range of child care programs that account for 274,114 children, wrote Mendick, in an email. This week the agency still couldn’t say how many providers will receive stipends.
Meanwhile, the Department of Social Services is overseeing $16 million in payments for 28,034 children, according to an email from Murray.
As of last week, Colburn said she’s been told by state officials the money would be processed by the state by April 21 and that it would take 10 more days to get paper checks in the mail to the local contractors who will then pay the providers. The state does not do electronic transfer for these payments so local organizations are checking their mailboxes, often for what could be multi-million-dollar paper checks.
Then contractors will begin cutting checks to individual providers.
“It seems like this whole process should have been set up,” she said. “I don’t understand the more than a month delay. Providers are closing, they are barely hanging on, they are upset.”
CalMatters coverage of early childhood issues is supported by grants from First 5 Los Angeles and The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation.
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