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‘Scraping the bottom of the barrel’: Richmond Childcare Funding Runs Low

City hall
City officials discussed the need for more childcare funding during a meeting of the education committee on Thursday. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Richmond’s emergency childcare program may not make it through March unless the city can get its hands on more funding. The program was started with almost $3 million of CARES Act funding, but the latest stimulus bill did not give localities more for childcare.

The first round of coronavirus relief funding came with an expiration date of Dec. 31, so in the case of Richmond, the city had until then to spend $40 million. Eva Colen, the city’s senior policy adviser, says the new stimulus bill extended that deadline.

“But given that that bill didn't get signed by the president until Dec. 28, the city had already been well on its way to spend it all down, so we really had very little funding left in the CARES Act pool,” she said Thursday during a meeting of the City Council’s Education Committee.

Colen says Richmond has been put in a “difficult position,” with most of its COVID-19 relief funds gone, and no new moneys coming in. She says the city will need between $1.5 to $2 million to extend emergency childcare services through the end of the school year.

“We're trying to buy time,” Colen said. “We've been looking for bridge funding… With the hopes that D.C. gets their head on straight and provides an additional relief package, or if we're able to identify local partners to continue to work.”

As of now, she says school-based childcare providers, such as the YMCA and Peter Paul Development Center, can take advantage of the extended timeline to spend their CARES Act funds to extend their services through March at least.

Colen says the city is now focusing on growing partnerships with churches, community organizations and nonprofits that can take advantage of special tax exemptions when receiving federal aid to make the most of the remaining relief funds.

“We took a subset of the original pool of grantees and used some of the very last, like, scraping the bottom of the barrel of CARES Act dollars to be able to get them checks to get them through January,” she said.

Colen says Richmond has managed to allocate $173,000 of the remaining CARES Act funding to those third party community partners to operate through the end of this month.

She added that Gov. Ralph Northam recently allocated a little over $16 million for childcare in Virginia, and $1 million of that was distributed between Richmond City, Henrico, Chesterfield and Charles City. She says providers must apply for these grants directly, as localities have no authority over how these funds are distributed.

The lack of funding is also exacerbating another issue for childcare providers: staffing. Colen says many childcare workers are turning to private providers who serve more affluent families and can pay better. 

“I don't hold it against those folks, but our nonprofit providers and our churches cannot compete with that,” she said. 

She says the need for staff members makes it difficult to satisfy the CDC’s social distancing guidelines, which limits the number of children per room, since one to two adults are required in each room.