New program using federal relief money to help early childhood education programs build back stronger

Education

INDIANAPOLIS — Many industries were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. A new grant program is helping an industry dedicated to supporting the next generation.

The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration launched the Build, Learn, Grow Stabilization Grant to support child care, early care and education and out-of-school-time programs that have faced increased costs and challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Indiana Early Learning Advisory Committee says before the COVID-19 pandemic, around 300,000 young children were receiving some type of child care while their parents were working. During the COVID-19 shutdown, child care availability was disrupted or reduced across the state.

During the pandemic, the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration reports that Indiana temporarily lost half of its capacity to serve children in child care centers and registered ministries due to COVID-19.

One of these centers was the East Tenth United Methodist Children and Youth Center on Indy’s near east side.

“At the time you know there was so much craziness going on. No one really knew what was happening,” said Jean Casmir-Hill, executive director for the center. “We did temporarily close and then when we reopened, we opened up a little bit at a time and you know soon got everyone back.”

The center was able to reopen thanks, in part, to grant programs like the Build, Learn, Grow Stabilization Grants and Build Back Stronger grants.

“Indiana has been an amazing job and the Office of Early Childhood Education and Out of School Time has really just taken these funds and giving them back to the child cares to to to come back stronger,” Jean said.

The Build Learn Grow Stabilization Grants were made possible by funding Indiana received from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act.

Nicole Norvell, Director of the Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning, said these grants are intended to help stabilize the market.

“Make up for costs that maybe they’ve been incurring had to go into debt in order to pay for, but also then for them to invest back into their business,” Norvell said. “So things like investments and higher wages for their workforce hiring opens opportunities for professional development benefits for staff and then also things that would help them drive up the quality of the programming that they’re offering.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, More than $1 billion has been made available in Indiana to support the child care and early education industry.

Jean says these funds have helped them provide equipment to keep their families safe while their children are in their care.

Using grant funding, they have been able to provide single-use meal service items, dispensers for water fountains, masks, cleaning products and other essential items.

However, like many industries, child care has not been left without staffing issues.

“The biggest problem right now that we’re finding is finding employees, Jean said. “I think that’s everywhere. We have a couple rooms that aren’t open right now because of, you know we have plenty of children to fill them, but if you don’t have the staff members you can’t get those going.”

The Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning says this grant will help alleviate this issue by requiring 25% of funding to go towards either increasing staff wages or bonuses or offering health benefits.

“It’s really, really important, we know that without staff childcare providers can’t be open and deliver the really high-quality care that they’re doing,” Norvell said.

The funding can also go towards investing in the business. Norvell says this can include paying ahead in rent or mortgage to free up funding even after the grant is over.

The FSSA also said funding can be used for:

  • Personnel costs focused on increasing employee compensation 
  • Employee recruitment and retention to attract and retain staff 
  • Facility fees such as rent, mortgages or utilities 
  • Facility maintenance or improvements such as playground upgrades or accessibility
    improvements 
  • Business supports such as new software or shared services arrangements 
    COVID-19 safety-related needs to keep staff and children safe 
  • Mental health supports such as counseling for children and employees or health and safety training 

East Tenth United Methodist Children and Youth Center has been able to use some funding to expand outdoor space to make sure the children can play safely and socially distant.

“The outdoors has really become a big part of part for us and we’re loving these fall beautiful days,” Jean said.

Grant amounts are calculated per child care site, based on each provider’s program type, average attendance, staffing costs, quality level and geography. Grant awards for this initial round will total approximately three months of a provider’s operating costs.

Providers can learn more about Build, Learn, Grow Stabilization Grants and apply at
Stabilization.BuildLearnGrow.org. The site contains an introductory webinar, application walkthrough, FAQs and the link to apply. All applications must be received no later than Dec. 30, 2021, though providers are encouraged to apply right away to begin using their funds

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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