Kentucky child care providers have access to $763 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to help sustain programs and operations. Gov. Andy Beshear announced the award on June 24.

“We can sustain existing providers and stabilize communities with child care deserts that need more options for safe, healthy child care. This funding supports early learning and lays a foundation for children now and for their future,” said Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander.

The first stream of funding was for sustainability payments and administrative expenses, according to the announcement. The second round of funding, $293 million, may be used more broadly. The Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) is the second stream of funds available to Kentucky child care providers.

Primary uses includes increasing provider payments, improving payment policies, raising staff pay rates, and increasing the quality of child care options for underserved, priority populations, according to a news release.

The Kentucky Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) and the Division of Child Care (DCC) recommended a multitude of child care initiatives and projects: increased Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) reimbursement, facility repair grants, start-up grants for family child care homes, technology system upgrades, and several other recommendations.

Child care providers can begin accessing funds by working with DCC during the application phase. Child Care Aware staff will visit child care providers to offer application assistance.

Families seeking assistance during the ARPA funding rounds are encouraged to apply for aid at kynect.ky.gov.

“My administration is committed to early childhood development and rebuilding the state’s economy as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. This funding allows our child care providers to stay open, keeps parents in the workforce, and keeps our infrastructure strong to build a better Kentucky,” Beshear said.

ARPA funds allocated $39 billion for child care providers and families seeking aid.

Other COVID-19 grants appropriated for child care providers and family assistance are Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) and Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) funding.

In April, the DCC Child Care Advisory Council announced that $2.4 million remains in CARES Act funds.

CARES Act funding provided start-up grants, Hero bonuses, program assistance, reopening stipends, enrollment incentives, and CCAP assistance to the providers, according to the council.

CRRSA funding for Kentucky totaled $195 million — priority was given to program sustainability; a portion of the funds was used for staff salaries, training and technical assistance, according to the council. The council announced that CCAP enrollment was down, and the DCC is working to establish a family child care network in the eight DCC regions.

Public comment at the council meeting included staff shortage concerns, insufficient mental health training opportunities, and special needs program initiatives.

Child care as an employment barrier is detected frequently in the Pennyrile area.

Caldwell County Childcare Center LLC, a licensed child care center, opened last August and offers child care services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Melissa Fisher is the owner. With help from her sister, Director Victoria Benjamin, and staff, Fisher provides child care for 38 children.

The center is located in Dawson Springs.

Fisher said it was a fight to get open last year. Restrictions during the COVID-19 lockdown prevented an early grand opening — Fisher said they were ready in January 2020.

Fisher said a child care desert is what she discovered in western Kentucky. Originally from Indiana, Fisher has been providing child care services in some capacity since she was 21.

She said she encountered roadblocks in Kentucky, adding that Indiana’s child care infrastructure is large in scale and reinforced at every level.

“We did a market study and there were over 500 children under the age of 4 without child care in the tri-county area,” Fisher said.

In 2019, a Child Care Aware of Kentucky study concluded the total number of children younger than 6 potentially needing child care was 202,708.

Fisher said she would like to see more men on her staff. She said children respond differently to males. She’s also interested in applicants who have teaching experience.

Currently, there are two directors and nine staff members at the center; 15 hours of training are provided to new hires.

The center received COVID-19 grants to help sustain child care service.

She said her operating costs are barely being met, and if it wasn’t for COVID-19 emergency funds, she would be unable to maintain services, which includes providing CCAP payment assistance for eligible families.

“Some time by the end of this year I’m hopefully going to be paying the bills and paying payroll with the income that’s coming in,” Fisher said. “But this is helping sustain us and keep us open.”

Fisher will be reviewing the application for ARPA funds.