Legislature to address child care issues in special session

Oklahoma City – One of the major issues the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding wants the Legislature to address in a special session is what a legislative staff press release called “the state’s lack of child care.”

State Senator Adam Pugh is the co-chair of the Economic Development and Workforce Working Group that has recommended providing $25 million to the YMCA to expand their child care and after-school programs around the state to better serve Oklahoma parents.

“We’ve seen a historic number of employees leave the workforce since the pandemic started, and one of the main reasons given for this is that families either don’t have access to child care or they can’t afford it,” said Pugh, R-Edmond.

“If we want to strengthen our workforce and economy, we have to ensure working parents have access to affordable care for their kids. The YMCA is a leader in providing high quality care, including food programs, for children and students and this federal funding will help grow their efforts, providing these critical services for more families so they can return to the workforce.”

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) would administer and oversee the usage of the ARPA funds by the Oklahoma Alliance of YMCAs to expand and improve their child care, out-of-school time, and food program infrastructure.

The YMCA’s Child Development Centers are accredited through the National Association of the Education of Young Children and have a 3-Star DHS rating, which is the highest offered by the state for childcare programs. The program provides a safe, learning environment for children six weeks to five years old.

The YMCA also offers before and after school programs for students up to age 12, and some locations even up to 15. All programs are offered Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

According to OKDHS, 34 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties are called “child care deserts” with over 55% of Oklahomans having no child care facilities in close proximity to them.

The Senate press release continued, “Many facilities closed during the pandemic further worsening the problem and, like many other industries, child care programs are struggling to find qualified employees.”

The Legislature convened in special session Wednesday (September 28) to appropriate more than $1.5 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal pandemic relief funds, including projects approved last week like the YMCA, along with others approved this past summer by the joint committee.

“Any statewide workforce initiative has to focus on improving access to child care, so parents can leave their kids without worrying about their safety and wellbeing,” Pugh said.

“I’m excited about this partnership and know it’s going to help families while also strengthening our workforce and economy. I applaud DHS and the YMCA for their dedication to supporting youth and families through these innovative programs.”

Pugh also noted that OKDHS is currently accepting applications for what are called “Child Care Desert Startup Grants” for new businesses located in identified areas designed as “child care deserts.”

Applicants may receive a total of $10,000 per child served, based on licensed capacity. An initial $5,000 per child payment will be made at the time of approval, with the remaining $5,000 per child distributed based on enrollment after 12 months.

Providers are required to complete an application and provide a Federal Tax Identification/Employer Identification Number. Grants will be available until budgeted funds are depleted, or until July 31, 2023.

The agency is also offering $1,000 workforce bonus grants for those who become licensed Child Care professionals and accept a position with a licensed child care program. For more information, visit okchildcaregrants.com.