With waitlists for emergency child care, Virginia lawmakers could increase funding

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WFXR) – Emergency child care is making a big difference for some parents during the coronavirus pandemic but many families are still struggling to access these resources.

The Virginia General Assembly is planning to commit more funding to support community sites for school-aged children taking virtual classes while their parents work. The question is how much.

Janet Kelly, mother of three and founder of the foster care non-profit Virginia’s Kids Belong, said she knew early on schooling her son Ashton while working remotely wasn’t going to work.

“He doesn’t really like sitting still,” Kelly said. “As I was thinking about it this summer my chest just started to tighten. I was like there is no way this is going to work for him or for me.”

Since virtual learning started back up again in Richmond, Kelly has been able to drop her 4th-grader off at Battery Park Christian Church where the YMCA of Greater Richmond is running an emergency child care program for 50 students. It’s one of 15 sites the organization is currently operating throughout the region.

“I feel like for the first time since March I can breath,” Kelly said

But many parents are still holding their breath.

YMCA Senior Operations Director of Youth Development Pam Smith said many of the communities they serve have waiting lists. As of Wednesday, Smith said Richmond’s is 39 families long.

“It’s not just the YMCA whose providing student learning support,” Smith said. “There just aren’t enough spaces for students and so we are furiously working at the YMCA to hire new staff.”

Smith said taking on additional supervisors will ensure students are getting more one-on-one support in a safe environment. She said additional funding from the state or federal government could help them pay for that staff and set up new locations.

“Some of our sites have capacities we cannot exceed due to social distancing,” Smith said.

Smith said increased funding could also allow them to provide more financial assistance to families who need it.

Kelly said she’s paying $33 weekly for the YMCA program. She said it’s still an expense that the family wouldn’t normally have with in-person learning but it’s much less than some private providers she was looking at with costs exceeding $200 weekly.

“That’s a really nice car payment or a mortgage. I honestly have no idea how we would’ve made that happen,” Kelly said.

The budget that advanced in Virginia’s House of Delegates earlier this week allocates more than $33 million in general funds to support emergency childcare programs–doubling Gov. Ralph Northam’s original proposal of $16.6 million. A House Appropriations Committee presentation noted that this will preserve resources after December 30th, when federal CARES Act funding expires.

That presentation also proposed an additional $60 million in stabilization payments to be directed towards childcare providers for younger children in financial jeopardy due to the pandemic. According to the Virginia Department of Social Services, 2,008 programs were reported closed as of Sept. 28 — about a third of the state’s 6,076 documented providers. Of these programs, VDSS said 903 have said they plan to reopen.

The office of Senate Finance Committee Chair Janet Howell didn’t respond Wednesday to clarify the chamber’s proposal but a recent presentation shows the body is pitching at least $20 million in additional federal CARES Act funding towards child care stabilization grants.

The House and Senate will have to come to a consensus before the budget can be finalized.

Additional resources could also come from Congress. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine signed onto a letter calling on leadership to include $50 billion for child care in a future COVID-19 relief package. The Child Care is Essential Act–if passed–would grant Virginia approximately $986 million of these funds, according to Kaine’s office.

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