One of the biggest areas of concern, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, was child care. The state was able to use CARES Act funding to assist licensed child care providers or those with self-declaration certificates.
The Child Care Emergency Operating Grant originally took effect March 30. The intent was to help our child care facilities keep their employees when pandemic closures began, as class size restrictions were put in place and the demand for care dropped.
“Yeah, it’s just been great all around. For my teachers, they’ve kept them working, my kids have a place to go, and parents have a place to bring their children during this time. So that’s been awesome,” said owner of First Steps Learning Centers Steve Arnold.
One of the big pieces of the grant, allowed providers to offer $50 per month holding fees to families who keep their kids at home. Had this grant never existed, these providers might have had some difficult decisions to make.
“Either turn around and charge our parents full price while either some of them are getting laid off or their small businesses are in question. Or we would have had to seriously contemplate letting a lot of staff go, which we have not had to do at this point we’ve been able to keep all of our staff. And the last thing would be, and that’s something we’ve always debated doing, is how big of a loan do we need to go and take out in order to stay afloat to keep our staff without gouging our parents or charging our parents this entire time,” said Exploring Minds Development Center owner Michelle Dressler Johnson.
The North Dakota Department of Human Services announced earlier Friday that their request to extend the grant has been approved by the Emergency Commission. The grant will now run through Aug. 14, right before many schools will begin the new school year. Since March 30, $19 million has been distributed to child care providers across the state. And now another $9.6 million will be available on July 4.
“There’s no way that this would’ve went as well as it did for us if we didn’t have something like this in place,” said Dressler Johnson. “In my mind, it was a necessity and a Godsend for everybody. For my parents, for my kids, for my teachers,” said Arnold.
The state says the grant money has helped more 775 licensed and self-declared childcare providers remain open, as they’ve cared for some 16,000 plus children.