Officials in Orange County, California, have set up a new relief program designed to distribute $5 million in federal relief funds to needy local child care businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
County Supervisors Doug Chaffee and Andrew Do described the pressing need for the COVID-19 Child Care Relief Program, which will use funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, at a press conference on Oct. 28.
“Our workforce depends on quality child care,” Chaffee said at the conference.
“The CARES Act funding is critical to rebuilding Orange County’s economy, making it possible for parents to go back to work, knowing that children are safe and receiving quality care.”
The supervisors worked with the First 5 Orange County Children and Families Commission and community nonprofit Charitable Ventures to develop the program.
To be eligible to receive a grant, Orange County child care providers must be able to show evidence that their business has been affected by the pandemic, comply with child-to-staff ratios mandated by the state, possess a valid child care license, and be open for business within 30 days of applying, according to the Charitable Ventures grant program website.
Funding can be used for payroll expenses, purchase of supplies, rent or mortgage costs, and environmental improvements related to COVID-19.
Chaffee called the grant “very timely.”
“As a First 5 commissioner, I received an overview of the First 5 Orange County Child Care Landscape Analysis Report, and found that we have an acute shortage of child care providers in Orange County—and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this shortage,” Chaffee said.
“Out of 1,242 licensed facilities in Orange County, now only 944 are open for business. That means 298 child care providers have closed due to the pandemic. We hope that the child care relief grants will help the remaining 944 child care providers keep their doors open.”
Supervisor Do emphasized the struggle that new parents have been going through as a result of affordable child care.
“Accessible and affordable child care has always been a struggle for new parents,” Do said.
“For many working families, child care expenses consume much of their paycheck. While some who are fortunate can turn to relatives to provide care, others face the daunting and difficult decision of having to quit their jobs.”
Do said the expense is “especially hard for working mothers” because much of the time the cost affects them most.
“And that hurts our community, our economy,” he said. “It also hurts our children’s ability to adapt and learn and socialize in the formative years that are so important to get them ready for schooling.”
According to Do, nearly 25 percent of child care centers in Orange County have closed due to the pandemic, and 22 percent of those centers have said they have closed permanently and will not reopen after the pandemic ends.
“Without something, some kind of assistance, we’re at the risk of having even more child care centers closing, and we can’t have that. So this is one small step that the County of Orange is taking to help address that need going forward in the future,” Do noted.
Kim Goll, CEO of First 5, discussed the Orange County Child Care Landscape Analysis, released on Oct. 7. The report was compiled from information collected prior to the pandemic, between November 2019 and February 2020, but also noted that COVID-19 has had “severe impacts” on the county’s child care system, including closed programs and reduced capacities.
Goll said the analysis found that there was a significant undersupply of infant and toddler child care in Orange County. Research also showed that 60 percent of children under the age of five in Orange County have both parents working full-time outside of the home.
Assuming two-thirds of children whose parents both work could find child care “through informal means,” such as an aunt, uncle, or grandparent, and only the remaining one-third needed licensed child care, “we still would only have enough child care for one in seven of those children to receive licensed child care,” Goll told the audience.
According to the analysis, the average price for child care for one infant or toddler is $15,650 per year in Orange County. The average cost for two children totals $26,150 per year.
“National Standards say that families should spend no more than 10 percent of their gross income on child care. Currently, in Orange County, families are often put in a predicament where they’re spending upwards of 26 percent of their income on child care,” Goll said.
Ann Olin, president and CEO of Charitable Ventures, said child care providers “are in the position where they have to increase their monthly expenditures because of cleaning supplies, personal protection, [and] environmental improvements” due to the pandemic.
She said the grant money would help offset those increased costs instead of raising child care costs for families.
“These are one-time stipend grants. They are not a loan and do not require repayment,” said Olin.
The grants range from $2,500 to $3,500, according to the size of the business.
The application period begins Oct. 30 and ends Nov. 13. Funds received must be spent by Dec. 30 or returned to the county.
More information regarding the grants will be available when the application portal opens on Oct. 30, according to the website.