With CARES Act funding drying up, Ohio joins nation in finding new sources of child care support

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

While child care centers are still in need of support to make it through the pandemic, Ohio was not alone in having to find more money beyond federal dollars amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ohio’s methods of subsidizing struggling child care facilities were part of a national study done by the non-profit think tank Bipartisan Policy Center, in looking at the diminishing CARES Act funds for the child care industry.

At the end of March, the federal CARES Act provided support for the child care system throughout the country, including $3.5 billion in appropriations for the Child Care and Development Block Grant.

That block grant gave Ohio $117 million, used by the state to pay emergency child care providers staying open for frontline workers, according to the study. The state reduced the size of child care groups and focused on state-licensed child care centers first and foremost.

The state used some of the CARES Act funding to offer monthly grants to cover health and safety and payroll costs during those periods of low attendance. Those grants lasted through August.

Nationally, the study found that 70% of parents reported still-closed or reduced-capacity child care programs. An earlier study by the Bipartisan Policy Center showed that 60% of child care programs in the country closed at the height of the pandemic, and one-third of the child care workforce was without a job.

“Child care providers were pessimistic about their ability to stay in business long-term, and about half of parents were worried their child care provider would close permanently,” the June study by the policy center stated.

In August, Ohio’s child care centers went back to work at pre-pandemic levels — a maximum group size of 12 for infants up to 12 months old, 14-16 for toddlers, 24-28 for preschoolers and 36-40 for school-age children, according to transitional requirements released then.

When child care centers went back to normal business, the state looked to other ways to support the child care systems, including extending a Ratio Support Grant, giving a monthly grant depending on the number of children served and the ranking on Ohio’s Step Up to Quality rating system, which monitors development and quality standards for early childhood and preschool education.

Any Early Childhood Education or Preschool Special Education programs funded by the Ohio Department of Education are required to participate in the Step Up to Quality rating system and an Early Learning Assessment.

Based on their quality rating, the state provided monthly grants through September, ranging from $273 a month to $12,503, according to the policy center’s analysis. The study also noted that Ohio is continuing subsidies and licensing to help child care centers.

“Acknowledging the heightened need for school-age care options this fall, Ohio offers a new Temporary Pandemic School-Age Child Care Center license intended to facilitate the development of temporary school-age care programs,” the study stated.

The return to school also included recommendations similar to those given by the Ohio Department of Education to K-12 schools.

As of Tuesday’s report from the Ohio Department of Health, children ages zero to four represent 16% of the state’s COVID-19 cases in children compared to 27% of the state’s child population. Children ages five to 10 represent 25% of COVID-19 cases in children compared to 33% of the child population.

September data showed that cases in ages five to 10 were 1.9% of all COVID-19 cases in the state, and ages zero to four had 0.9% of all cases with an illness onset of September.

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