County to fund child care subsidies

June 17—A new grant program could help local child care providers stay in business and aspiring providers get in the game.

At a Clatsop County Board of Commissioners business session on Wednesday, the county’s Child Care Task Force presented the proposal to stabilize provider funding.

The task force, an advisory group of experts, stakeholders and community leaders, came together to address the lack of childcare options in the area.

The North Coast is experiencing a constant hemorrhage of childcare niches. Over the past five years, the county has lost more than half of its licensed child care capacity, The Astorian reported.

Child care workers often earn low wages, have no benefits and do the kind of work that exhausts them, said Eva Manderson, director of Northwest Regional Child Care Resource and Referral, on Wednesday. It is also difficult to determine child care operations.

“We want the solution to be as simple as, ‘I know a building around the corner from my work that’s open where we could open a daycare center,'” Manderson told the commissioners. The unfortunate thing, she says, is that “it’s a lot more complex than that.”

The task force hopes that the proposed grants for maintaining and expanding child care will allow providers to eventually pay their staff a living wage equal to that of a kindergarten teacher.

“Right now we’re a long way from that,” Manderson said, “and we see this program as a way to help do that without it being on the backs of families.”

Grant details will be posted on the county’s website. Once applicants have submitted their grant applications, a committee will review the applications and award funds.

The Columbia-Pacific Economic Development District will likely serve as the program’s fiscal agent, responsible for raising and distributing funds, Manderson said.

The goal is to do all of that before September, in part because that’s when child care programs run out of COVID-19 funds, Manderson pointed out. “It puts a bit of urgency in getting things done,” she said.

The county will contribute $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act dollars to the grant program over the next four years: $150,000 a year for three years, $50,000 in the fourth year, Manderson said.

Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria and Providence Seaside Hospital have also pledged funds, said Dan Gaffney, task force leader and former educator.

Additional funding sources can come from state and federal governments, cities and school districts, philanthropic organizations, local businesses, and individuals.

To qualify, child care providers must be licensed or work toward licensing, Gaffney said.

They must be listed in Find Child Care Oregon and be open to referrals, he said.

Providers will be required to accept employment-related child care program funds, provided by the state Department of Social Services, for low-income families.

In addition, they must participate in a program through Clatsop Community College’s Small Business Development Center designed to strengthen their business. Northwest Regional Child Care Resource and Referral will pay for their participation in the immediate future.

Northwest Regional Child Care Resource and Referral is seeking a Specialist to work with providers on professional development and improving their programs.

Commissioner Courtney Bangs, who is part of the task force, said Wednesday, “We’re going to need the community involved in solving this ongoing issue of this ‘childcare desert’ that we have.”

The proposal will soon be submitted to the county commissioners for approval.

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