Prince George's CountyWilliam J. Ford

Maryland Child Care Concerns Highlight Town Hall

An increase in employee salaries, parental scholarships and the purchase of modern equipment count as just three requests Maryland providers and advocates mentioned Monday during a statewide town hall to boost the state’s child care system.

Carla Plaza, a strategic adviser in Prince George’s County, suggested a statewide data system to assess the location of “child care deserts” — places with either limited providers or with less than inadequate spots available for children 5 and younger.

“How many child care providers have not returned to offer slots due to the pandemic? I’m also trying to understand where the child care deserts exist in the county,” said Plaza, who works for George Askew, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for health, human services and education. “Having that accessible data . . . has been hard to obtain.”

She joined nearly 420 people during a virtual discussion hosted by the state Department of Education who received recommendations on distributing $193 million from the American Rescue Plan’s Child Care Development Fund.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services summarizes at https://bit.ly/3jdjQHK how child care providers could spend the money, especially with one of every six child care jobs lost during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of the money can be spent on:

  • Assisting licensed providers to reopen who closed due to the pandemic.
  • “Bonuses” for child care operations in underserved communities.
  • Waving or reducing copayments for families affected by the pandemic.
  • Providing mental health support for children, their parents and staff.

Jennifer Nizer, director of the department’s Office of Child Care Division of Early Childhood, said the agency received slightly more than 5,700 applications and nearly 1,100 emails from providers applying for a portion of the grant. She said a budget amendment could be completed within at least two weeks to start disseminating the money.

“We’re trying to help stabilize the field,” she said. “We don’t want to take this money and just do different things with it . . . We really are valuing your input.”

Several child care advocates said money should be available to offer services beyond nontraditional hours for essential workers, which the federal guidelines permit.

Monica McMickens, owner of Fruits of the Spirit Christian Childcare Center in Baltimore City, said employee training should be offered to assist children with disabilities.

“I’ve been in the child care [profession] since 1999 and I have seen young children as young as three and four [with] disabilities,” she said.

Besides the $193 million, the state has an additional $309 million allocated from the American Rescue Plan’s stabilizing grants program. The money can be used for qualified child care centers and home-care settings for wages and benefits, rent, cleaning supplies and other needs “necessary to maintain or resume child care services.”

As for the $193 million, the money remains available for dissemination over the next two years.

“They’re not long-term funds,” said Steven Hicks, assistant state superintendent in the education department’s early childhood division. “We do hope the investments we make will be sustainable.”

William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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