The state of Montana has approved $18 million in grants from federal funds for 31 child care providers, health care organizations, community groups and local governments to expand child care services. children, Governor Greg Gianforte’s office announced Wednesday.
Innovation grants vary between $142,000 and $1 million. Applications had to demonstrate how they would use the funds to improve the affordability of childcare services, increase access and provide sustainable, high-quality services.
The governor’s office cited Browning Public Schools as a group that plans to use its $207,000 grant to hire and retain more child care providers. He also said Family Promise of Gallatin Valley Inc. will use its nearly $990,000 grant to expand its daycare center for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.
“For too long, working families in Montana have faced a shortage of child care providers, putting them between a rock and a hard place,” Gianforte said in a press release Wednesday. “To increase access to quality, sustainable child care and address this long-standing issue, we are investing in quality providers who operate in our state’s child care deserts.”
Tori Sproles, executive director of advocacy group Child Care Connections, said the funds will go a long way to help their partners in Gallatin, Park, Lewis and Clark and Jefferson counties provide better child care services. She said the grants could be used to expand staff outside of traditional working hours or help an employer buy a certain number of child care spaces for their workforce.
“The innovation grant was really about bringing the community to the problem. How do we approach child care issues in a collaborative and innovative way,” Sproles said. “It’s going to have an impact.”
The press release did not say when the ministry plans to distribute the funds to recipients. A spokesperson for the Department of Public Health and Human Services said the agency expects to finalize contracts with recipients within 30 days. The grant cycle is expected to last until September 2024.
Child care providers have been strained since the COVID-19 pandemic, in part due to increased health and safety expenses, an ongoing struggle to hire and retain qualified staff and strict staff-to-child ratios required to maintain licenses. Rural Daycares can be rare. In more urban areas, providers like Family Promise of Gallatin Valley report long waiting lists as demand exceeds available slots.
The price of child care is also a major concern for many Montana families, often putting the service out of reach for low-income and working families. A February report from the national advocacy group Child Care Aware found that the average cost of childcare in Montana in 2020 — the first year of the pandemic, before inflation became a national concern — was more than $9,300 a year.
The full list of Child Care Innovation Grant recipients and their respective amounts has been posted on the state health department website. Counties that include grant recipients are Glacier, Gallatin, Missoula, Mineral, Ravalli, Lewis and Clark, Beaverhead, Carter, Flathead, Granite, Yellowstone, Jefferson, Carbon, Deer Lodge, Sweet Grass, Fergus, Judith Basin, Petroleum and Cascade. .
Gianforte’s office said the recommendation to use the U.S. federal bailout law to create these child care providers came from ARPA’s bipartisan Health Advisory Board, made up of lawmakers and of executive staff.
This committee also recommended grants to help stabilize child care services that beneficiaries could use for staff compensation, bonuses, recruitment, rent or mortgage, and other COVID-19 related expenses. The final application period for these grants closed last Friday.
Gianforte’s office said Wednesday that two-thirds of the total $61 million earmarked for those stabilization grants had been allocated. A summary of ARPA expenditures as of early August, approximately $30 million in child care stabilization grants and other supports had been disbursed to recipients.
House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena, said Wednesday the governor’s announcement was good news for the 19 counties with successful candidates, but she was frustrated with the time it took. took the Gianforte administration to distribute federal emergency funds.
“We approved this a year ago,” Abbott said, referring to a vote by lawmakers who serve on ARPA’s health advisory committee. “When you have aid money and you have people across the state crying out for help, you want to see that money flow effectively and efficiently.”
Charlie Brereton, the new director of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services appointed to replace former director Adam Meiersaid in Wednesday’s press release that the innovation grants would help fill gaps in child care deserts and increase provider capacity in Montana.
“We look forward to seeing these many projects progress to meet existing needs,” Brereton said. “We appreciate the careful thought and planning of nominations that we believe will make a huge difference in Montana.”
Sproles acknowledged that a faster timeline for awarding grants would have been appreciated. In the end, she said she was happy to see the money flowing to communities in need.
“It’s hard to be negative about it,” Sproles said. “There is still a need. This need went nowhere.