Child care providers face tough choices as pandemic relief funds phase out

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SALT LAKE CITY — Working parents with young kids are bracing for a big disruption in child care as pandemic relief funds expire at the end of September.

During the pandemic, Utah received about $600 million in federal funding as part of America’s Rescue plan. The lifeline helped keep 900 child care centers afloat. The grant isn’t completely going away yet – but starting in October, payments will be reduced by 75%.

We spoke to the director of Utah’s largest child care center about the hard decisions they’re facing to keep their doors open.

Students at ABC Great Beginnings in West Valley City use their creativity and imagination in Miss Chandra’s pre-K class. This is one of 15 centers operated by Johnny Anderson, which serve over 3,000 children.

“Our teachers are the business,” he said. “They are the industry. If that part breaks, then the whole thing falls apart.”

Anderson worries the child care crisis is about to get worse. Most of the pandemic-era funding in Utah has been exhausted and will dry up by next June.

A report from the Century Foundation found that Utah is one of a handful of states at risk of seeing half of their 900 licensed programs close.

“All we can do is pass the cost on to parents,” Anderson said. “That’s what we’ve been forced to do.”

Experts say it has exposed what are really long-standing problems.

On average, child care can cost anywhere from about $5,000 to more than $15,000, according to government data. And yet child care workers have historically made less than the national average.

“We can’t all of a sudden say well our minimum of $15 an hour is going to drop down to $10. There would be nobody to work,” Anderson said.

Rebecca Banner, director for Utah’s Office of Child Care, says parents can get some financial relief.

“It’s important for parents to know that they may be eligible to receive child care subsidies that could help offset the costs of child care if they see that increasing over the next couple of months,” she said.

Meantime, Anderson said Utah lawmakers can step up and take pressure off families.

“If New Mexico can do it, Utah can do it. We have the resources. We have the ability. We just need it to be a priority.”

Click here to apply for child care subsidies and here for another great resource about child care. Families can use this site to find available child care in their communities. They can filter based on needs, cost, type of care and several other factors.

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