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$140 million child care grant program to help Nebraska providers survive
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$140 million child care grant program to help Nebraska providers survive

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Nebraska child care providers have an “unprecedented opportunity” to get back on solid financial ground and help families get equal access to high-quality care thanks to a new grant program.

State Department of Health and Human Services officials unveiled the $140 million Child Care Stabilization program Wednesday.

Stephanie Beasley, children and family services director for HHS, said the grants will shore up a key part of the state’s economy. She said the pandemic put a spotlight on the critical role that child care providers play in making it possible for parents to work.

“Child care providers have been and continue to be the workforce behind the workforce throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Nationally, the pandemic has exacerbated the shortage of reliable and affordable child care, which in turn has restricted the growth of the broader economy. The shortage has forced many people — mostly women — to leave the workforce and contributed to a deepening labor shortage.

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Child Care Aware of America estimated that 9% of licensed child care programs have permanently closed since the pandemic began, based on its tally of nearly 16,000 shuttered centers and in-home child cares in 37 states between December 2019 and March 2021.

The new grant program is intended to address some of the challenges that have pushed providers to close.

State officials said it aims to ease financial burdens faced by child care providers because of the public health emergency and the instability of the child care market as a whole. It has a special focus on supporting providers in underserved and lower-income areas of the state.

Grants will be awarded based on a funding formula. The money can be used for a variety of purposes, among which are personnel costs, rent or mortgage payments, buying equipment and supplies, mental health support for children and employees, co-payment and tuition relief for struggling families and paying for past financial losses incurred between March 13, 2020, and March 11 this year.

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Providers can apply online through an application developed by the state in collaboration with Deloitte Consulting. The application launched this week. The deadline for applications is Nov. 24.

Providers with questions can call a toll-free hotline, 833-500-8810. The hotline will offer assistance in multiple languages. They can also see Frequently Asked Questions at coronavirus.nebraska.gov/assets/ChildCareStabilizationFAQs.pdf.

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