Boise is getting ready to put money in the pockets of childcare workers.
On Tuesday, Boise City Council unanimously approved a program to spend $3 million in American Rescue Act funds on boosting the city’s childcare providers. The program will award $1,500 in cash to any licensed daycare worker or early-childhood education teacher this fall who applies for the funds.
Boise’s Director of Community Partnerships Kate Nelson told council that the lack of consistent childcare has become a major barrier for recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. In feedback sessions on how the public wanted to spend ARPA funds, she said finding ways to stabilize the childcare system was a major priority.
“Residents made it clear the high cost of childcare has serious negative impacts for their families,” Nelson said. “Low wages for childcare workers is a significant contributor to this barrier.”
COVID-19 sent ripples through the childcare system nationwide, stretching already stressed providers having difficulty making ends meet and cash-strapped parents who can’t afford to pay more. The pandemic forced centers to close and the labor shortage fueled by high cost of living makes it hard to fill childcare worker jobs, which are often low-paying.
The average childcare worker in Boise makes just over $12 an hour, or roughly $24,000 a year. Grants of $1,500 would increase the average workers’ income by roughly 6%.
How will it work?
Nelson said this grant program is intended to be “immediate relief” for childcare workers who are struggling with inflation and other rising costs now, but the city will also continue to explore systemic changes to help ease the burden on the childcare system where possible.
This includes the city’s move to streamline the licensing process for new childcare workers to get them working faster while they wait for the final steps of background checks to clear.
To be eligible for a grant, childcare providers must be licensed by the city as of May 1 and they must have an account through the state’s Rise system, which helps disseminate information to childcare workers and providers. Accessing this system also connects workers with scholarship opportunities, training and other resources. You do not need to live in the city of Boise to receive a check.
The grant will be administered through the non-profit Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children. The city and IAEYC will start outreach to the city’s 1,900 licensed childcare workers in the next month, with the grant application opening from August 1 to August 31. Funds will be paid out in November.
Nelson said the applications will be available in multiple languages and will be specifically created to be as simple to access as possible to make sure the money can reach as many workers as possible.
This is on top of any funding from the state of Idaho for incentive pay for childcare workers, Boise spokesperson Maria Weeg said those funds only go to business owners who pass along the benefits to employees. Boise’s grant program will be direct cash payments to childcare workers.
‘A short-term fix’
Mayor Lauren McLean applauded the program, pointing to a study released by IAEYC last year estimating Idaho’s childcare shortage costs the Gem State’s economy $479 million per year. But, she said while Boise will continue to work on the problem she encouraged the Idaho Legislature to get more involved on the issue.
“There’s only so much we as a city can do,” she said. “I think it’s incumbent on this state to continue looking at what they can do with those recovery funds sitting in their bank accounts and looking at other states like New Hampshire where they have built out more investments in childcare workers in their education and their school loans because ultimately that is an investment in kids.”
City Council President Elaine Clegg said she’s seen how much costs and availability of childcare has impacted her children and grandchildren’s lives. She hopes this program will help keep some of the workers in these much-needed jobs and support them to continue the work.
“I hope it will stabilize to whatever degree we can the market so that those providers aren’t living as much day to day, hand to hand as they have been,” Clegg said. “It’s a short-term fix but it’s one that is really important.”