The pandemic showed us how vital child care is to our economy.
Without reliable and proven child care, many people — most of them women — were forced to leave the workforce, creating employment challenges that continue to torment business owners everywhere.
Nebraska continues to overcome the havoc of the last two years, but imagine how bad it might have been were it not for grants that kept many of the state’s child care providers afloat.
Federal pandemic relief funds delivered Nebraska child care providers a $98 million lifeline over the past nine months, according to state officials.
Reports from the Department of Health and Human Services show that 2,269 providers — or 80% of all licensed child care centers, family child care homes and preschools — have gotten help through the Child Care Stabilization Grant program since October, the Omaha World-Herald reported last week.
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The funding has been critical in supporting a key part of the state’s economy, while also keeping quality child care available for children and working parents.
A key in gauging the success of any program is determining the number of people who have benefitted from it. There are few programs that have a better participation rate or more positive outcomes.
“The successful grant cycles impacted the statewide provider network and brought stability and reliability to a vital industry in Nebraska,” said Stephanie Beasley, children and family services director for the Department of Health and Human Services.
HHS deserves a tip of the hat for establishing the grant program with Nebraska’s share of the $24 billion in federal child care relief dollars provided through the American Rescue Plan Act.
State officials awarded a total of $104 million in two rounds of grants, with the bulk of the money already disbursed. The last $6 million is set to be disbursed to second-round recipients in September.
More funding is still needed because Nebraska’s child care providers continue to struggle. With a shortage of workers, wages have soared making it difficult for providers to continue offering safe and affordable services to families.
It’s a pain that isn’t unique to Nebraska. Nationally, the pandemic exacerbated the shortage of reliable and affordable child care, which in turn has restricted the growth of the broader economy.
However, it might hurt more in the Cornhusker State, where pre-pandemic figures showed that more than 76% of Nebraska children under age 6 lived in homes where all adults worked, which is higher than the national average of 68%.
Ensuring that child care remains a priority is essential to this state’s economic future. While we hope that federal funding will continue, it needs to be a priority for state lawmakers, too.