The Washington state Department of Commerce is making grants available to organizations, nonprofits and government entities to help solve the shortfall in child care, which is an industry particularly hard hit during the coronavirus pandemic.
The purpose is to provide up to $100,000 from the Child Care Partnership grant program to identify a community’s needs for safe places where parents can take their children while they work, said Cheryl Smith, the department’s director of community engagement and outreach.
“Communities have a wide range of child care needs that are not being met,” Smith said. “What are the gaps? How can they increase capacity? We think there is a lot of value in bringing together different partners in the community to figure that out.”
The grant money is not intended to go directly to child care providers, like the $29 million in direct relief to child care to thousands of providers that stayed open during the pandemic. That money, from the federal CARES Act, was distributed to providers by the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, including 155 in the Spokane area.
The new Commerce grants are designed to attack the needs that existed even before the pandemic. Commerce Director Lisa Brown noted in a news release that the need for access to child care is even more pronounced in economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color.
“We cannot allow a learning gap to persist in Washington state – the long-term costs in human potential for our kids, our communities and our economy are staggering,” Brown said .
Organizations eligible to apply for Commerce grants are nonprofit organizations, local government entities, educational service districts and federally recognized tribes.
Smith said child care covers a spectrum of needs, including providing facilities to care for infants, toddlers and school-age children.
“It’s complicated. We are trying to intentionally focus on unmet needs from historically marginalized communities,” Smith said. “We want to make sure everyone has access to high-quality child care.”
The hope is to work with community centers, school districts and elected officials to develop partnerships that don’t presently exist to identify an area’s needs.
“Then we can identify funding, if it’s available,” Smith said. “We think the communities can come together and determine what they know and what they need. Then we can develop plans on how to meet those needs. ”
She reiterated that the idea is not just to throw money at struggling child care centers , although that need continues .
“The focus is on planning, instead of paying for providers,” she said. “We think this will result in more capacity for the long term.”
Organizations seeking to apply for the grant money have until July 10 to apply for the first round of funding, Brown said.
“This is a broad, complex societal challenge that demands strong partnerships among local government and tribal leaders, school systems, employers, philanthropies and others to develop and implement programs and projects that will strengthen communities and families,” Brown said.
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