$600 grants for Pennsylvania childcare workers go quickly

  • An-Li Herring/WESA

(Pittsburgh) — Childcare providers in Pittsburgh likely have maxed out their share of a state program that gives $600 grants to childcare workers.

Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled the program Wednesday, and by Friday there was already a waitlist for the money set aside for Allegheny County, according to Cara Ciminillo, who leads the Pittsburgh-based childcare advocacy nonprofit Trying Together.

“It was sort of no surprise that the pandemic relief award went so quickly,” Ciminillo said. “We know [childcare workers are] the folks that are really helping to keep the economy going by making sure our essential workers and families can work.”

On Monday, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services confirmed that the number of grant applications likely exhausts the amount of money available to the county’s providers. It still encouraged providers to submit applications ahead of a Feb. 12 deadline so they can be considered as additional funds become available.

In fact, the COVID relief package that Congress approved in December includes $10 billion for childcare. The state expects to receive its portion of the funding in the coming weeks.

While disappointed that there’s not more money available yet, Ciminillo was pleased that the $600 payments were directed specifically to childcare workers, who face added strain due to coronavirus restrictions. Ciminillo noted that a vast majority of childcare employers had been left out of a hazard-pay program the state administered last summer and early fall. That program included six industries and managed to fund just 6 percent of applicants.

The new childcare grant program will distribute a total of $19.8 million to 33,000 employees, according to the state. For this fiscal year, the program will replace grants that had previously been used to boost pay for highly-qualified early childhood education teachers. The state will finance the $600 payments using a federal fund that helps low-income families to access childcare and childcare money that was left over from last spring’s federal coronavirus relief bill.

To qualify for one of the grants, an individual must have been employed by a licensed child care provider on Jan. 1, earn a gross annual salary of no more than $70,000, and work a minimum of 20 hours per week at the child care facility.

DHS could not say how many people are eligible for payments. But a 2018 study found that there were more than 41,500 people in Pennsylvania’s early childhood teaching workforce. That research, conducted by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at University of California, Berkeley, showed that child care workers earned a median salary of $9.71 in 2017, while the median salary for preschool teachers was $12.99.

While Ciminillo expects the $600 grants to provide some relief to childcare employees, she considers the money to be merely a “Band-Aid” after a long-term lack of investment in childcare.

The childcare system, she said, had depended on “an infrastructure that was on shaky ground before the pandemic, and it’s an infrastructure that remains on really sort of swampy land.”

“So anything to help sort of acknowledge, recognize, and value the work of child care is something that the field really looks for because it’s not something they [typically] experience outside of the pandemic,” Ciminillo said. But she added, “Children and families deserve high-quality child care so that they can go to work with a peace of mind. … It takes really investing in the workforce who enables families to do that.”

The COVID relief package that Congress approved in December includes $10 billion for childcare. The state expects to receive its portion of the funding in the coming weeks.

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