Sep. 28—Paying for child care isn't always easy or cheap, but multiple rounds of funding originating from the federal government have been working to stabilize the industry, creating opportunities for providers to keep their doors open and for parents to keep their children safe.
A survey published in June 2021 found that over 70% of families say that their child care costs increased since the pandemic. To combat increasing costs, the South Dakota Department of Social Services announced earlier this month that a new round of grants aims to provide additional funding to assist child care providers with their operational costs.
The grants come as just one round of a $25 million stockpile DSS received from the federal government after congress passed the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act in December 2020.
"The funds were received by DSS from the federal (CRRSA) Act, which outlined how funds could be spent in the area of stabilization grants," DSS Cabinet Secretary Laurie Gill told the Mitchell Republic in an email.
Gill said that child care providers can be awarded up to a maximum amount based on their registered provider category. Family daycares that serve between one and 12 children are eligible for up to $1,540, while licensed daycare centers that serve between 21 and 200 children are eligible for up to $14,700.
The newest round of funds, expected to be disbursed in November, are meant to stabilize the child care industry in South Dakota.
However, local providers have used prior rounds of the funding in a range of ways to increase the safety of their child care facilities and relieve economic burden on employees and parents.
Amber Friedel, business director at Trojan Learning Center in Parkston, said that her organization already saw the benefit of the first round of DSS grants, and is ready to welcome in another.
Trojan Learning Center received its first round of child care provider funding in August, and despite hoping that it's use wasn't necessary, used it in part to ensure the safety of attending children.
"We got this grant, and initially you kind of have the mindset that you're not gonna have to use it," Friedel said. "We used the money for extra supplies, cleaning supplies — we've even used it for air purifiers to have in the building."
Beyond purchasing items to help maintain a clean and healthy environment, the Trojan Learning Center used some of their grant to provide paid time off to employees who were quarantining and for parents whose kids were out of daycare due to illness.
After announcing child care providers' eligibility for additional funding earlier this month, DSS gave providers a deadline of Sept. 24 to apply for the second round, which is expected to be disbursed in November.
While Friedel didn't give an indication of what the Trojan Learning Center might use the next round of funds for, a Mitchell-based child care provider said that she plans to use it to combat increasing grocery prices and to offset costs of basic facility bills like electricity.
"With our food program, we only got like a penny or two increase (from the state) on meals this year, and groceries have really skyrocketed. So that helps," the provider said.
That provider rescinded the use of her name following an interview.
Though the announcement by DSS aims to help support child care providers, parents have also received financial aid since the passage of the CRRSA. An earlier program, also funded by CRRSA, helped parents offset the cost of child care by granting a certain amount per child attending licensed child care centers.
Jen Hoesing, chief development officer of EmBe, said that these funds were directed to child care centers to be applied to the accounts of parents paying for services.
Many families of EmBe's 800 students across their 12 locations in Mitchell, Sioux Falls and Harrisburg received up to $600 in credit toward child care expenses — which made a major impact on some parents.
"We're lucky to work with great people who are on the state side of things," Hoesing said. "We know in the case of CRRSA funding, it's made a big difference in the lives of the people we serve."
Friedel added that, as a parent of two, receiving that funding took a burden off of her, equating it to essentially getting free daycare.
While EmBe plans on applying for the most recent round of funding, Kerri Tietgen, CEO of EmBe, was not available to discuss the impact it would have on the organization as a provider.
Separate from grants under the CRRSA Act, DSS offers other financial aid programs for low-income families in need of child care. Information regarding assistance can be found on their website.