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Childcare advocates rally at Idaho statehouse against cuts on federal support dollars

The legislature’s budget writing committee denied $36 million in February. The same committee has not acted on a pool of $43 million.

BOISE, Idaho — Idahoans filled the statehouse steps to rally against the state legislatures Joint Financial Appropriations Committee (JFAC). The committee has not approved any amount of $79 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to supplement the childcare industry.

The $79 million at play is separated into two different bags, according to Idaho Association for the Education for Young Children (IAEYC) Executive Director Beth Oppenheimer. The first bag is $43 million of supplemental funds to help with wages and facilities. The second bag is earmarked by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) to the tune of $36 million for the same cause.

JFAC denied IDHW proposal in February. JFAC has not approved, denied, or discussed the $43 million supplement. The supplement is to support childcare businesses until June 30 - IDHW's bag would have extended that help until Sept. 30.

With JFAC's denial and lack of action, childcare businesses cannot get any access to money they planned for in their operating budgets.

"Our center alone lost thousands of dollars over the course of that time. The stabilization grants have been vital for us," Lakewood Montessori Co-Owner Mary Clements said. "I have received a letter from Health and Welfare stating that funding is cut immediately."

Rally attendees included childcare owners, workers, parents, and children. All attendees who spoke to KTVB knew the ARPA dollars would not last forever; however, those who work in the industry expected the funds to last at least until June 30.

"Instead, [JFAC] just pulled the rug out from under us," Clements said. "It will be a hardship. Somebody will have the pay the price somewhere. Where will it land?"

To make up for the lost funds in previously established budgets, it is logical for daycare centers - even if it is a hard decision - to increase their rates, according to Clements.

Alison Kelsey is the mother of a two-year-old boy. Her son attends daycare twice a week; this allows her husband to build his own business on the side. Kelsey works full-time.

"Sending kids to daycare is a tough choice, but it is also and investment," Kelsey said. "In April our tuition will go up 240 dollars a month. That makes our total cost 900 dollars a month."

Kelsey's family is now having conversations about whether they can afford the cost of daycare, because the burden to fulfill the businesses preestablished budget is now falling on the shoulders of families.

"And that's something we will probably have to put on hold because it is more than we can afford," Kelsey said.

Idaho Attorney General Raul Labrador is investigating community grant funds - also ARPA dollars - to ensure the funds were spent properly. Those community grants can only be used for after-school programing for children between the ages of 5 and 13.

"Our [civil investigative demands] were issued to obtain facts about what happened and to determine whether state law was followed," The AG's office wrote KTVB in an email. "Our goal here is to provide full transparency to the people of Idaho.”

These community grant funds totaled $36 million annually in 2021 and 2022, according to Oppenheimer. These grants are in no way connected to the supplemental funds.

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