10/11 NOW Investigation: A look at where millions in childcare grants went in Lancaster County

10/11 NOW requested a breakdown of every recipient in Lancaster County.
Published: Feb. 10, 2022 at 6:43 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - In an industry where, historically, wages aren’t high, childcare center directors at North Creek Childhood Development Center and Educare Lincoln, are starting to break the mold.

“We want to pay our staff what they’re worth, what they should be paid,” Katrina Hurley, director of North Creek Childhood Development Center said.

It’s because of pandemic relief funds. Both centers were among the top recipients of American Rescue Plan Act Childcare Stabilization Grants. North Creek Childhood Development Center was awarded $270,000 total, Educare Lincoln $203,600.

“Retaining staff would have been much more difficult if we weren’t able to increase wages,” Quentin Brown, Executive Director of Educare Lincoln Said. “We went in and did a market analysis, looking at every position on staff and adjusted the pay scale which we were able to do because of these stabilization funds. Without that I’m not sure we would have been able to be as competitive as we are today.”

The two centers, are among nearly 2,000 in Nebraska and 350 in Lancaster County to receive stabilization grants. In total, Nebraska was given $140 million to give away, so far they’ve allocated $90 million to centers. 10/11 NOW requested a breakdown of every recipient in Lancaster County. The documents show among the 350 centers, nearly $19 million was awarded, half of which was distributed in December, the rest will come in March. The average award size is nearly $55,000.

“Providers could use the funds to pay for financial losses that occurred during the pandemic and also to help families get tuition relief,” Nicole Vita with Nebraska DHHS said.

To be eligible for the grants, a center just had to be licensed in Nebraska. 68% of the funds in Lancaster County went to childcare centers, 17% went to in-home daycares, 15% went to school-age only daycare centers and .5% went to preschools.

Vita said it’s been critical to support childcare throughout the pandemic.

“Many had reduced income because they had reduce class sizes to comply with directed health measures, or have had to shut down classrooms because of a COVID-19 outbreak, and many have done this more than once in the last two years,” Vita said. “Staffing may have been absent or had family exposed so that creates another hardship for centers.”

The money can be spent on personnel costs, rent, utilities, maintenance, insurance, equipment and supplies, goods and services, mental health resources, co-payment and tuition relief and financial losses.

The last option was key for North Creek Childhood Development Center.

“When the pandemic hit, we had many families pull out of daycare because they were worried and we refunded parents,” Hurley said. “We didn’t charge them during COVID-19 if their kids weren’t coming, even to hold their spot. With that we took a hit with our finances.”

Hurley also said without these grants, they likely would have had to raise their rates.

“If rates increased like at other centers, we’ve had parents tell us they wouldn’t be able to come,” Hurley said. “That they’d have to quit their jobs and stay home with their kids. We don’t want that to be an option for them.”

At Educare, the grants provided exactly what they were intended to: stability.

“There were certain costs that increased because of COVID-19 but by and large it was a matter of ensuring you have the resources necessary in a market that was taking resources away,” Brown said.

It is also important to note that many of these centers were also eligible and received Paycheck Protection Program funds. Educare Lincoln, for example, received $380,000 in PPP loans which have been forgiven.

Brown said it has been critical to funnel relief dollars to childcare.

“Good quality care that’s accessible and in the right amount for kids in the community is a necessity whether it’s for supporting the workforce or the appropriate development of children,” Brown said. “It’s all necessary.”

The state still has about $50 million in childcare stabilization grants to give out, Vita said they’ll be opening applications up again in the spring.

You can look up your childcare center by clicking on this here.

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