Utah still has $200M to spend on child care. This is how leaders want to spend it.

Director of state’s Office of Child Care suggests creating apprenticeship program, expanding existing initiatives.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Holding on to a tether to stay safe, 3-year-olds from PC Tots return from an outing before nap time in Park City on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. The Utah Office of Child Care has received $574 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding to help stabilize the child care industry in the state during the coronavirus pandemic.

Of the almost $574 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding that Utah has received to help keep child care providers afloat, there is still roughly $200 million to spend, and state officials have ideas for where it should go.

In Utah, families struggle to find child care that meet their needs, Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan, told her fellow lawmakers at a legislative committee hearing in September. Meanwhile, there are not enough child care providers, she said, and there is a workforce shortage in the industry.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Utah’s current system was meeting only about a third of the need for child care in the state, according to a report from the Office of Child Care. The problem was amplified during the spread of COVID-19, as parents — especially mothers — struggled to juggle caregiving responsibilities with work when day care facilities and schools were closed. New research is currently being done by several groups to provide an updated look at child care needs in the state, according to Pulsipher.

In the meantime, Rebecca Banner, director of Utah’s Office of Child Care, said there are ways that her department can help alleviate the problem with the federal relief money it has left to spend. A majority of those remaining funds, $159 million, can be used up until Sept. 30, 2024, she said.

How to spend the $200 million

One idea is to create a child care apprenticeship program, Banner told lawmakers at the at the Oct. 20 meeting of the Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee. This currently doesn’t exist in her office, but after looking at models in other states, Banner estimated that her team could create it “in a short period of time.”

Banner also suggested expanding already existing programs, including start-up grants for new child care providers, to help with some of the initial costs; T.E.A.C.H. scholarships that help child care works earn a college degree; training for high school students who are studying child development; waiving licensing and background check fees; and connecting businesses with child care providers to help meet employees’ needs.

To prepare for the upcoming legislative session, members of the Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee have been studying Utah’s child care shortage. Banner presented this list of options after hearing some of the issues that lawmakers are focusing on.

One possibility that legislators are considering is whether to create a nonrefundable individual income tax credit for children ages zero to 5. They are also looking at how many children a provider can currently care for, among other items. Committee members plan to go over draft legislation at their meeting Nov. 17.

Where has the other $374 million gone?

Providers have received roughly 91% of the $374 million in federal relief money that the Utah Office of Child Care has already spent or set aside, Banner said, including to assist with summer programming and offset the costs of licensing and background checks.

Just over 500 providers received operations grants to help with low enrollment during the coronavirus pandemic, and 451 continue to receive monthly money, according to Banner. Meanwhile, Utah’s child care licensing division gave out 804 grants to 571 providers to help with new safety and health requirements during COVID-19.

Another 7% was given to parents and families, Banner said, such as through the temporary One Utah Child Care Program during the coronavirus pandemic last year, which provided child care for 649 children of essential workers. The state has also waived copayments for child care subsidies, Banner said.

The remaining 2% went toward administrative costs, including staffing and technology support, according to Christina Davis, spokesperson for the Department of Workforce Services.

Near the end of November, the Office of Child Care will release $250 million in grants to help stabilize the state’s child care industry, Banner said, which providers who have faced financial burdens during the COVID-19 pandemic can apply for. This money can be used to help pay for personnel, rent, utilities, supplies and other necessary services.

The total $574 million that the Utah Office of Child Care received came from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act; Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act; and the American Rescue Plan Act.

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.