Leon CARES childcare fund will help parents in need

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Childcare funding that is available through a Leon CARES grant will solve a few issues affecting the industry, especially helping to keep centers open and paying the way for struggling parents to get their children in a center.

Then, there is the underlying situation where children aren’t going to school to experience interaction that is important to their development. 

“They’ve been at home shifting between mom and dad or with grandma,” said Morgan Evers, Community Relations Manager for Early Learning Coalition of the Big Bend Region. “Now this little one will have the opportunity to go into the classroom with other kids.”

Evers is the liaison between ELC and the County government. She is overseeing disbursement of $920,000 that is designated for childcare through Leon CARES.

“I’m excited for the families that become eligible and are going to receive these services,” Evers said. “It is going to be a game-changer for them.”

Childcare providers are anticipating a bump in their business with the Leon CARES childcare support.
ELC photo

The money is part of $52.2 million that the county received through the $2 trillion CARES Act that is intended to help the economy recover from losses cause by the coronavirus pandemic. The childcare fund is allocated to assist parents who are considered essential workers.

The list of essential workers includes healthcare workers and first responders who have 500 children in the ELC program.

 The county last week launched a portal to apply for funds, but processing of applications for childcare money is being done through ELC. The money will help families that find themselves in a “struggle to make ends meet,” said Mathieu Cavell, Assistant to the County Administrator for Community Relations and Resilience.

While funding from Leon CARES will go to parents living in the area, ELC covers six other counties. The agency is funded through the state Department of Education, which provides up to $26 million annually for childcare in the seven counties. 

Morgan Evers

Evers said 20 childcare providers who are already contracted with ELC had applied as of last Friday. In Leon County, there are 120 childcare sites. The region is comprised of 249 sites in seven counties.  

The additional dollars from the Leon CARES grant will allow the agency to assist parents who otherwise would not be eligible, although they aren’t making enough money.

“They’re still the working poor, but if they were to apply for our regular school readiness service they would make a little too much money for now,” Evers said. “We are capturing these families who fall between 150 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty line.”

The agreement with the county will fund childcare through until Dec. 30, Evers said. In most cases providers will be paid up to $800 per month, she said, adding that children up to age 12 will be included to ensure entire families are covered.

Although the Leon CARES money isn’t a long-term childcare fix, it should help centers where attendance has been low. Especially centers like LaKesha Thompson’s. Her enrollment at Bright Stars has dropped from 37 to 12 since the COVID-19 outbreak, she said.

“The majority of my parents that are on ELC have had (work) hours cut during the pandemic,” she said. In other cases, parents have chosen to remove their children because they are “terrified of the virus and they are scared that their child is going to contract the virus.”

Kim Sineath of the Learning Pavilion, said enrollment has also dipped at her center but she hopes the Leon CARES support will bring the numbers back up. Meanwhile, she said, parents don’t have to fear about the wellbeing of their children.

“We are able to support the children in a stable nurturing environment,” she said, “really ensure that their development focuses on the services like special needs and their services are not discontinued because of issues with employment or COVID.”

Still, she is concerned about what could happen with the coronavirus over time.

“It is a very difficult time for the industry,” she said. “I worry that without additinal programs like the CARES funding that once the economy is back up and running that services for childcare may not be available because they are in a financial struggle.”