Maria Contreras-Collier had always wanted to upgrade the backyard of her Brooklyn-based child care center. The yard, used as a playground, is covered in a black rubber mat to protect children when they fall. But after 20 years, the now-pockmarked mat has become so waterlogged whenever it rains that the center has to stop children from playing outside for a couple of days afterwards.
“We’ve been wanting to get this done for a really long time,” she said.
But because of limited funding, this plan remained out of reach — until this August.
The child care center of the Cypress Hills Child Care Corporation, where Contreras-Collier serves as executive director, is one of around 18,000 providers that are eligible to apply for New York State’s almost $1.1 billion grant that aims at stabilizing the pandemic-battered industry. Recipients can spend the money on a number of government-approved expenses, such as personnel costs, rent and maintenance, as well as equipment, services and training to protect children and staff against COVID-19 spread.
Funded by federal COVID-19 aid, the grant’s launch in early August injected the biggest single round of investment into the state’s sector to date.
In New York City, child care providers are happy with the grant’s rollout. The Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), which manages the grant, has authorized $686 million and disbursed $181 million to around 12,000 providers as of September 23.
“This is the one time I can actually say I’m so impressed by the state,” said Tammie Miller, chair of the United Federation of Teachers’ chapter for family child care providers in New York City.
“The application process is easy. The update when you get the money is really, truly timely. … They literally translated the application process in [a dozen] languages, so I love that providers can apply in their own native language.” Besides English and Spanish, the grant’s information is available in such other languages as Chinese, Haitian Creole and Yiddish.
Contreras-Collier and Gregory Brender — director of public policy at the Day Care Council of New York, which works with public child care centers and family child -care providers — echoed this sentiment. Contreras-Collier recalled that she was “somewhat shocked” by how easy it was to apply for a grant.
There are eight steps in the application process, according to the OCFS’s tutorial videos. In particular, the application comes with pre-filled information according to the provider’s information in the state’s database, short questions such as one around proposed use of funds, and estimated funding that providers can expect to receive.
“I’m so used to having to suffer whenever I do an application that I kept thinking something’s missing here because it’s just way too easy,” she said.
Contreras-Collier added that she has since received roughly $18,000 of the expected funding of about $108,000, which has given her “tremendous peace of mind.” Besides upgrading the center’s backyard with a new mat to protect kids who fall while playing, she is planning to put this first installment towards cleaning up the water damage caused by Hurricane Ida. She also will use the funds to support several teachers’ certifications.
But Contreras-Collier, Miller and Brender say more financial support is needed for the childcare industry, which employs predominantly women of color and low-paid workers.
During the pandemic, the industry has lost a third of its workers and childcare centers nationally, leaving many families scrambling for access to care. In turn, the lack of accessible childcare has contributed to the exodus of millions of women from the workforce.
Besides New York’s stabilization grant, Brender said there have also been three rounds of COVID-19 assistance funding for child care providers through the federal CARES Act. Still, providers and advocates pointed out that these are one-time funding grants, and they say that more long-term measures are needed. (The Biden administration has proposed investing $225 billion into child care through the American Families Plan, but its fate remains uncertain.)
“What I fear is this is not going to be consistent,” Contreras-Collier said. “So much of the funding that we receive is contributing to that piecemeal approach, and then what?”