Bucks County Courier Times: Montgomery County offering $12M to aid families, child care centers
by Peg Quann
October 20, 2020
Montgomery County has set aside $12 million of the federal CARES Act funding it has received to deal with the COVID crisis specifically to help child care providers and the families they serve now that many children aren’t learning in school.
Since the pandemic struck, 260 licensed child care providers across Pennsylvania have closed permanently while another 400 closed temporarily, state Human Services records show. Their enrollment declined as parents opted to keep their children home, or because of staffing issues due to fear of the virus spreading at the centers.
The Montco Cares Program, which was announced earlier this month, will run through Dec. 30. It is designed to “ensure the financial viability of Montgomery County child care centers that have experienced disruption due to the COVID-19 global pandemic" as well as support families financially impacted by the pandemic.
“We all know there are many parents who need to be at work, whether physically outside the home or physically inside the home,” said the county commissioner Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh in discussing the program at a news conference Wednesday. “Any of us who are parents know it's hard to concentrate on work when you're worried about your child. “Hopefully, it will make it a lot easier for a number of families.”
At the Happy Minds Montessori School in Horsham, director Inga Mountain said the school has applied to participate in the program. Enrollment there dropped from 70 children in March to 30 this fall. Many families have opted to keep children home, she said, because of fear of spread of the virus and concern for older, more vulnerable family members.
“It’s hard to make a go of it with under 50 (children),” Mountain said. “Financially, we are strained. Classes are smaller, enrollment is less than half of what it was, we have new expenses (masks, more cleaning supplies, etc.) and the end of the pandemic is not yet in sight.”
"Our families are struggling as well,” she said. “Our economy is such that we need child care.”
Happy Minds educates and cares for children from infants to pre-kindergarten. Mountain said that young children “get the sniffles all the time with teething and allergies. If they get sick at school, we send them home immediately and let all the parents know,” she said.
She said the center started a kindergarten program to assist the families of some of its former students who couldn’t send their children to kindergarten because the schools were closed to in-school instruction. Now, however, the Hatboro-Horsham School District will open kindergarten classes on Oct. 26.
If staff members become ill at child care centers that creates problems, Mountain said, because they need to be tested for the virus. Over the summer two staff members had colds and needed to be out of work for a week waiting for the test results, she said, even though their tests came back negative. The centers need to maintain adequate staffing even if the number of children attending them is down, because of the absences caused by testing for COVID..
To participate in Montco Cares, child care centers must be licensed and in compliance with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, have been in business prior to March 1, 2020, and have experienced a disruption in service caused by the pandemic, among other criteria.
The centers can receive grants ranging from $2,100 to $48,600, depending on how many children they serve, if they have not already received a MontcoStrong Small Business Grant or a MontcoStrong Non-Profit Resiliency and Restoration Grant.
Montgomery County parents or guardians can also receive grants to help them pay for their costs in sending their child to a care center, with the funds going directly to the center they choose. Their children must be between the ages of 6 weeks and 13 years. The family’s gross median income must be less than the area median income. For a family of four, that’s $96,600. The families can receive up to $40 a day not to exceed $2,480 or 62 days of service through Dec. 30.
Bucks County has offered business grants to licensed day cares along with other small businesses, and some did receive grants, said county spokesman Larry King.
“In addition, we have several nonprofits that provide child care, including the (Bucks County) Opportunity Council, the YWCA and YMCA for which roughly $2 million has been made available through the end of the year,” he added. But the county doesn’t have a program offering grants to help individual families.
Mountain said that all government agencies should consider the cost of child care because the economy is so dependent on it.
“It is very important that governments (county, state and federal) make an effort to support quality child care until the pandemic subsides. Without assistance, many schools and day cares will need to choose between closing their doors or providing sub-standard care,” Mountain said.
Arkoosh wanted to stress that the funding isn’t just for preschool care but for school-aged children as well. “We’re trying to do everything we can do to help our families,” she said.
Both families and child care centers have until Nov. 2 to apply.
For more information on the Montgomery County program, visit the website: https://www.montcopa.org/3609/Montco-Cares-Program