To Help Families Ensure Access to Child Care, Board Approves $4.8 Million ARPA-Funded Grant and Loan Program
Humboldt County’s local child care system was devastated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in order to help stabilize the system and ensure families have access to child care going forward, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $4.8 million program, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), that provides grants, loans and subsidies to local child care providers and families.
The program, developed by the Humboldt County Child Care Taskforce, will provide funds for child care retention bonuses, hiring bonuses, forgivable loans to transition centers/homes from preschool to infant and toddler care, educational loan forgiveness for those who receive early childhood education degrees, child care subsidies for working parents, business support, and the establishment of a Child Care Sustainability Commission to study the local industry and develop a plan to maintain these programs.
The county polled and interviewed businesses to determine what services they required most to help navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, and child care services for employees was among the top three priorities named by employers. The initiative is a direct response to the reported needs of Humboldt County’s business community.
“When the pandemic began, the business community told us loud and clear that they need reliable child care in order to thrive,” said Virginia Bass, 4th District Supervisor and Chair of the Board. “Child care affects public services as well as we saw so many parents needing to stay home to care for their children because their providers were not available. This program is a massive investment into Humboldt County’s child care infrastructure, and our economy and community will be better for it.”
Child care has been identified by the federal government as an industry that has been disproportionally affected by COVID-19. This is evidenced by the crisis facing Humboldt County’s child care industry: 80% of Humboldt County’s working families looking for child care are unable to find a licensed care provider, and those who provide child care services have struggled to make ends meet. Since March 2020, Humboldt County has seen a roughly 30% closure rate of available child care service providers, with at least 6% closing permanently.
“Families have been struggling with this unprecedented lack of child care availability - and it’s serious. It means families are having to make tough choices between working, at often essential jobs, and having their children being cared for while they work - while everyone is also struggling with rising costs. This project will support family access to care by supporting existing child care expansion and opening new licensed child care, supporting providers to stay open with financial incentives, help with hiring by providing hiring bonuses and supporting families with help with child care fees,” said Mary Ann Hansen, Executive Director of First 5 Humboldt.
Families report that child care fees are such a heavy burden that they often have to choose between child care and paying for housing, food, or other necessities. To that end, the program will provide system of subsidies of child care fee for local families, including middle-income families who do not qualify for existing supports.
“We are incredibly proud of our county leading the way with this initiative, and we know that every dollar invested in child care businesses more than doubles in impact in our community,” said Kerry Venegas, Executive Director of Changing Tides Family Services. “Parents earn, children learn, and businesses thrive – things that keep our community healthy and whole. We are looking forward to the next steps.”
The child care crisis is not only felt in the most populated areas of Humboldt County, and because childcare options are fewer in outlying areas, the affects of closures can be even more catastrophic in more rural areas.
Many child care services in outlying areas of the county are informal, and this is a tremendous opportunity to support these care providers and stabilize their services through small business incubation. Small business technical assistance and incubation support will provide them with a solid foundation for becoming small business owners, while providing critical services to remote communities.
The Child Care Grant and Loan Program will be administered by the Arcata Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), which is a designated Community Development Financial Institution, committed to delivering responsible, affordable lending to helping low-income, low-wealth and other disadvantaged people and communities join the economic mainstream.
"This investment in child care allows us to provide the breadth of support that will truly make a difference, not just for one business or even one industry, but across the whole economy,” said Susan Seaman, Program Director with AEDC. “We are so grateful that the county is willing to take this bold step and demonstrate that they are committed to being a leader in these efforts to support our children, our families and economic prosperity in our region."
The county will make an announcement when the Child Care Grant and Loan application process begins, and more information will be provided as it becomes available. Please review the County Administrative Office’s staff report and the Humboldt County Child Care Task Force report for more information.