American Rescue Plan dollars (Covid relief funds) allocated to Humboldt County are being used to support the Child Care industry in a unique collaboration between groups that developed the plan, including the County of Humboldt, First 5 Humboldt, the Local Child Care Planning Council, Changing Tides Family Services, the Humboldt Quality Counts Consortium, the Emergency Child Care Taskforce, and the Arcata Economic Development Corporation, which will be administering the funds.
Child Care Crisis
The children, families, communities, and early child care workforce of Humboldt County are facing a crisis brought on by years of inadequate resources and the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic. Families have struggled to find child care for young children and those who provide care have struggled to make a living doing it. Humboldt County was already losing child care openings and Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) professionals when the pandemic hit. The pandemic has forced child care programs to operate at reduced capacity, centers and homes have closed and ECCE professionals have left the field. The Berkeley Center for the Study of Child Care Employment reports in its 2020 analysis, “The poverty rate for early educators in California is 17 percent, much higher than for California workers in general (8.7 percent) and 6.7 times as high as for K-8 teachers (2.5 percent)” (CSCCE, 2020).
Child Care is linked to child and family wellbeing
Child care’s role in supporting the economy has only grown and become achingly apparent during the pandemic. Even with COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave in California, 26% of adults in households with a disruption in care took unpaid time off to care for children who were unable to attend child care. Similarly, 18% of adults in households with children either left their job or were fired from their jobs because of a disruption in care (California Budget Center, September 2021). Local employers have shared their frustration about the lack of child care impacting the success of their businesses. In Humboldt County we have lost many, many childcare openings due to program closures and professionals leaving the field, leading to an unprecedented weakening of the local childcare system. A recent California County Scorecard of Children’s Wellbeing demonstrates that only 35% of Humboldt County working families have access to licensed child care spaces, which means families are “making it work” through a combination of informal child care, networking, and creative scheduling. Child care programs continue to struggle to find the staff they need to maintain ratios and reopen all classrooms fully.
Support for Child Care
It was from this landscape that the idea of using ARPA funds to support childcare was born. The proposal was boosted by county staff in several departments who undersood the challenges that a fractured child care system has on the county’s workforce. First 5 ED Mary Ann Hansen, CTFS ED Kerry Venegas, and Eureka Mayor Susan Seeman deserve much of the credit for writing the proposal, with support and input from many others. Initially thinking of a much smaller percentage of funds, it became apparent that only a substantial dollar amount would make a real impact and promote some sustainability efforts for when the funds run out. Other county priorities for using the funds include increasing access to housing and broadband across the county. We were gratified that the Board of Supervisors also understood the deep need of local familes and child care providers and approved the entire ask of $4.4 million.
Child Care Stabilization Fund
The Child Care Stabilization for a Strong Humboldt Economy and Healthy Families, or Child Care Stabilization Fund, has been designed with 3 aims in mind and with an eye to promoting long-term stabilization and Sustainability. These are Immediate Business Supports, Stabilization, and Growth/Sustainability of a Healthier Child Care System. The Arcata Economic Development Corporation, with efforts led by Susan Seeman, was able to get staff hired and a program up and running so that childcare providers were seeing payments as early as late summer 2022. By November 2022, the AEDC had processed 330 applications from childcare providers and paid out $442,000 in direct payments as retention bonuses to childcare workers and business owners who were open and serving children during the pandemic. Currently, forgivable loans are also available to childcare businesses for specified improvements. AEDC is currently exploring plans to supplement child care costs for families.