OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) announced on May 6, 2020, that the state agency received $50 million in additional funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for a Child Care Development Block Grant.
State Rep. Lundy Kiger, R-Poteau, along with other members of the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress, have been working with their local daycares and talking with DHS on the needs of providing additional funding directly to daycares from the federal funding, as many of the state daycares are struggling with low attendance due to parents being out of work.
"This has led to approximately 850 daycares already closing their businesses with many other businesses not sure if they can survive," Kiger said. "This leaves many who are concerned about whether the state will have adequate daycare facilities when Oklahomans return to work.
"At this point, while many daycares have closed and many others struggle and are about to close, it’s a very valid question that lawmakers and DHS must consider regarding the use of the infusion of $50 million in CARES Act dollars that are available," Kiger said.
He points out CARES Act funding parameters awarded additional funding to DHS and tasked the agency with properly managing the $50 million. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided several relevant key uses for funds of the CARES Act for childcare that were outlined as the intent of the funds, he said.
The first point provided to the state was that funds may be used to provide continued payments and assistance to childcare providers in the case of decreased enrollment or closures related to the Coronavirus, and to assure they are able to remain open or to reopen. To date, DHS hasn’t considered using funds in this manner as approximately 38 states have done by providing funds directly to daycare businesses in different forms and amounts, Kiger said.
He noted there are other options available for DHS in how they may use these funds. He said the decision DHS has made from the parameters provided through the guidance provided by the CARES Act is acceptable, but he questions whether the decision by DHS to not fund existing daycares that are struggling is what is best for childcare and this industry.
"But, with all Oklahoma daycares now experiencing difficult financial conditions due from the pandemic and children staying at home, and over 850 daycares closed this year in the state, is the money going to the right people to make sure we have daycares open when parents go back to work?" Kiger asked.
To help answer questions from the May 6 announcement that DHS issued stating that the majority of the $50 million is going directly to parents for 60 days of childcare, Kiger asked DHS the following questions that he hopes will be answered in a meeting to be held with legislators and Congressman Mullin next week:
- How much of the $50 million goes directly to parents searching for a job?
- How many parents or homes will receive this funding?
- How is the money being distributed to parents, and will it be issued by debit card?
- Will daycare use be the only use possible for parents in using these funds?
- If a parent uses these funds for job searching and finds work, do they continue using the card until it runs out of funds for childcare at daycares until they reach 60 days of use?
- What happens to any funds that parents don’t use? Will it remain on the card or after a certain date does the card shut off and remaining funds go back to DHS?
- Under CARES Act funding parameters, the first point provided to the state and possibly the intent of the Act says that funds may be used to provide continued payments and assistance to childcare providers in the case of decreased enrollment or closures related to the Coronavirus, and to assure that they are able to remain open or to reopen. With over approximately 850 daycares that have shut down in Oklahoma to date this year, did or will DHS consider using any of the funds going directly to daycares remaining open that are struggling with low attendance (as approximately 38 state are doing to some degree)? We as a state are seeing daycares closing every day.
- Is DHS concerned that daycares closing each day may not provide adequate daycares in our state in being available when parents do find work and need childcare?
- What is the percentage of the $50 million that DHS can use for administrative costs?
- How much does DHS pay on the average monthly for parents for daycare subsidy pay?
- How much monthly is DHS not having to fund for subsidy pay per the budget during the pandemic due to parents being home and not allowed under DHS rules to take their children to daycare and subsidy money not being used? Is this creating a surplus of money in the DHS budget?
- Would DHS be open to holding a meeting with the top three childcare association board members to discuss the current state of daycares in Oklahoma and work together to address the closings and financial issues our daycare providers are having to stay open for business?