By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on January 4, 2021
With roughly 100 vacancies currently in local childcare facilities, the Dare County Board of Commissioners on Jan. 4 unanimously approved a budget amendment to allocate up to $350,000 in grant monies to Dare County childcare providers in an effort support them through the COVID-19 crisis and ensure their doors remain open when the pandemic subsides.
The Childhood Education and Childcare Grant will run through June and provide licensed childcare facilities with $400 per vacancy per month, with a maximum of $10,000 per month. For licensed family childcare homes, the grant would offer $100 per vacancy with a $600 monthly maximum.
Under the terms of the grant, providers would also be eligible for a one-time COVID grant for a temporary closure of five days or more due to a COVID outbreak, with facilities eligible for a maximum of $5,000 and childcare homes, $600. Providers, however, would not be eligible for the one-time grant and vacancy grant simultaneously.
Because the vacancy funding would only provide roughly half of the income that an otherwise filled spot would, Commissioner Rob Ross described the assistance as “sort of a help to keep the lights on and pay the water bill kind of thing” and not something that would serve as an incentive to let vacancies go unfilled.
County Manager Bobby Outten told the commissioners on Dec. 4 that a working group made up of Commissioners Ross and Danny Couch, Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Wally Overman, Dare County Social Services Director Chuck Lycett and members the Children and Youth Partnership have been working on the proposal since August.
“We’ve done a lot of work trying to figure out how to help these daycares stay in operation through the COVID crisis,” he said, “but maybe even more importantly, to be available when we come out of COVID so that there’ll be a place for the children to go so the workforce can work.”
The county manager said that a lot of available childcare spots among providers are going unfilled during the COVID pandemic due to families’ concerns about possible exposure.
“The bigger risk for us is on the back end when we come out of COVID, hopefully in the summer, and everybody’s back to work because we’re fully employed and everything’s busy. What are the people going to do with these kids if these daycare centers have all closed,” Outten added.
He acknowledged that the grant, which will be administered through the Social Services Division of the Dare County Health and Human Services, does not resolve the larger issue that in Dare County, the demand for daycare exceeds the supply.
“But the spots we do have, we need to somehow make sure we continue to have them [so] we can cover that population,” added Outten, saying that the money would come from the fund balance line item of the current fiscal budget and would supplement subsidies from the state.
At the suggestion of Ross, the board agreed to make grant monies available for providers beginning with their December vacancy figures.
Outten said that come June, when there will be more information regarding the trajectory of the pandemic and how effective the grant program has been, commissioners can evaluate whether to continue the assistance.
“That’s probably the most important thing, because if it’s not working and it’s not keeping them open and doing what we hoped it would do, then there’s no reason to continue doing it,” he concluded.
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