Federal funding dries up for area child care providers
The end of COVID-era child care federal funding—millions of which came to Summit County—is here. A government shutdown doesn't help.
Park City native Casey Miller is the founder of Stepping Stones Academy in Kamas, a daycare for 16 children from newborn to age 4.
Miller has received $6,400 a month under the American Rescue Plan Act passed in 2021. Now she’ll receive just a quarter of that amount.
She has had to cut employees in the past, and can’t accept any more children right now. Stepping Stones only has two other employees right now, and Miller knew the pandemic funding wouldn’t last forever.
Utah’s Division of Workforce Services has chosen to reduce ARPA funds to providers over time.
They will now receive 25% of the full subsidy. In March 2024, that will be cut to 10%, and by June it will be gone. The DWS told KPCW Summit County providers received over $4.1 million in ARPA dollars in 2022 and 2023.
Miller thinks the industry at large may pass along the loss of funding to parents.
“I kind of budgeted very well with finances to try to stash some of that away and still be able to pay my employees,” Miller said. “I think childcare is just going to end up increasing in price even more than it already has so that we can bring on more children and bring on more providers.”
And even before those potential price hikes, some parents will immediately see another new charge.
That’s because ARPA waived copays for parents receiving the federal Child Care Development Block Grant. Now some parents will see monthly charges they never had before.
“It could go from bad to worse with this government shutdown, for young families, particularly lower income young families,” said Brigette Weier, an advocate at Voices for Utah Children’s Care for Kids Network.
Providers’ loss of funding and the return of parents’ copays are happening just as other federal assistance might stop as well.
The federal Head Start and Early Head Start programs are only funded for a few weeks in the event of a government shutdown.
Then there’s the aforementioned Child Care Development Block Grant. It’s the primary funding stream that helps families afford child care, and Weier said it’s under threat too.
“There could be some flush money in there that keeps it going for a month or two, but nobody really knows,” she said.
With more uncertainly ahead for the already broken childcare market, Miller said parents and providers need more help from the federal level.
“It would be nice to just see it nationally being a lot more covered, putting a lot more expenses into child care,” the Stepping Stones founder said. “Parents are all working two, sometimes three jobs just to keep their kids in care and be able to afford their [other] financial obligations.”
Park City dad Ryan Streams said he doesn’t see much hope for outside help.
“Absolutely, we could be spending federal tax dollars on this—they're not coming,” he said. “Washington is not going to be able to deliver on this, for our kids, for our families. The state doesn't look ready to step up either. Who does that leave? That leaves the county.”
Streams was one of several fathers who asked the Summit County Council Wednesday [Sept. 27] to use county money to make child care more accessible. Three weeks prior, several area moms made the same plea.
Members of the county council have said they’re waiting for a proposal to come before them, one of which may come from the Early Childhood Alliance.
Earlier this summer, the organization got the Park City Council to appropriate $1 million in stopgap funding to area child care centers.
At the city and county councils’ joint meeting Oct. 10, Summit County Council Chair Roger Armstrong said he wants to learn more about how Park City will use the money.
In the meantime, Weier says, the situation will gradually degrade.
“It's not just going to happen Sunday, Oct. 1, like the pandemic where we just shut down,” she said. “It's not going to look like that—it'll look like a waterfall, where people just kind of keep falling over the edge until somebody notices.”
She said those people will be the community’s most vulnerable.