The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is using federal COVID-19 relief dollars to pay for two months of child care for out-of-work parents.
But an advocacy group for the struggling child care industry says the funding needs to go directly and immediately to providers instead.
State officials have urged child care centers to stay open as many other businesses closed to slow the spread of coronavirus. But many are struggling to keep their doors open with very few children attending, Oklahoma Watch reported. More than 700 child care centers have closed temporarily.
The human services department announced the program Friday. It will use funding from a $50 million block grant through the federal CARES Act to offer a 60-day child care subsidy to parents who are job searching due to a job loss during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We know that Oklahomans have been significantly impacted by the COVID crisis, and we hope that this benefit will help support them as they get back on their feet,” Justin Brown, DHS director and secretary of human services and early childhood initiatives, said in a statement.
To benefit from the program, a child care facility has to be open and accept DHS subsidy payments.
The Licensed Child Care Association of Oklahoma, which represents providers across the state, says the program doesn’t assure providers are able to remain open or reopen, and it doesn’t give enough aid to providers that accept private pay.
“There is a known supply shortage and decreased attendance of children during this pandemic. The funding intent was to give immediate relief to child care providers. The money allocated to child care was not intended to fund unemployed families,” according to the association’s statement. They note that there are other relief programs for unemployed families.
Day care attendance declined steeply beginning in mid-March as most people began staying home. Many private pay parents are unable to continue to pay, and DHS doesn’t make subsidy payments for children who miss too many days.
It’s unknown if the program will expend all of the CARES Act funding for child care. Keili McEwen, a spokeswoman for the department, said the agency will reevaluate if there are remaining funds.
“We certainly expect parents to take advantage of it, but how many is to be determined,” she said, adding, “We’re excited about helping families and we think this will help providers as well.”
Applications for the DHS program begin May 1 at http://www.okdhslive.org/.