Licensed childcare providers in Arkansas can now apply for funding to help pay for costs associated with COVID-19. The state's Department of Human Services announced on Friday the receipt of $41 million in federal assistance from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
In a news release about the aid, DHS Deputy Director for Children and Families Keesa Smith said "Safe and high-quality childcare is critically important to families trying to get back to work and to our economy as a whole. This funding will help address the safety and economic issues for childcare that have arisen as a result of this pandemic, and the enhanced safety procedures will help assure parents that we at DHS are committed to protecting children."
Tonya Williams, the department's Director of Childcare and Early Childhood Education, said the department has three priorities for disbursing the aid: supplemental pay for childcare centers, funding for safety equipment, such as masks and hand sanitizer, and money to help pay for childcare for the state's essential workers.
DHS is following national guidelines outlined in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act for defining essential personnel. The list includes, but is not limited to emergency responders, health care providers, public health personnel, manufacturing workers, sanitation workers, childcare and early childhood staff, and individuals involved in the food supply chain during pandemic.
The funding dedicated to childcare for essential workers will not be provided directly to families, but to the licensed facilities caring for their children. DHS has budgeted $18 million of the aid for the essential workers, but says it is currently limited to one month. Williams says this funding is unusual because there are no income level requirements attached to it.
"We’ve never served families that are over the income requirements that we have. And we think that by going just with the one-month authorization that we'll be able to serve more families," Williams said.
DHS will rely on guidance from federal and state officials to decide whether or not to continue the funding after one month. According to DHS, over half of the state's 2,000 licensed childcare providers have remained open since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.