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Federal funding for Idaho child care providers up in the air

There's $43 million left from federal pandemic funds, but Idaho lawmakers have to decide whether they want to accept the money.

IDAHO, USA — Child care providers around the state are waiting to find out if supplemental funding from the federal government will continue or end early. 

The federal government first allocated money during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when daycares were struggling to keep their doors open. 

"This funding has allowed our childcare industry to somewhat come back from the tremendous loss that they saw at the beginning of the pandemic," said Beth Oppenheimer, Association for the Education of Young Children executive director. 

Since 2020, Oppenheimer said Idaho has received more than $100 million to keep the child care industry afloat. Today, there's still $43 million of American Rescue Plan Act money available. 

Idaho lawmakers could accept the money or send it back to the federal government - a decision Oppenheimer said would be detrimental. 

"If [lawmakers] cut this off, they will end prematurely, leaving childcare providers in a really challenging situation," she said. "We hear from providers all over that they honestly cannot continue these next couple of months if they do not receive this funding."

Right now, 3,600 individual child care providers get $300 each month. Oppenheimer said 700 child care businesses also received upwards of $20,000 to cover operational costs, food, lights, utilities, rent, etc.

Some lawmakers have voiced concerns about taking more money from the federal government. 

Rep. Wendy Horman, co-chair of Idaho's budget committee, said the Department of Health and Welfare already has $100 million in its budget for the child care industry.

"And they have another $10 million yet to expend," she said. "So, they still do have funds to get out the door. The question that remains is will that additional $43 million be proposed to be spent as well." 

If Idaho lawmakers choose not to accept the money, Oppenheimer said federal funding would immediately be cut off. That's a decision she believes would leave many child care providers and businesses behind. 

With less federal funding, Oppenheimer said child care providers would have no choice but to increase costs for parents, which isn't sustainable.

"By ending these dollars prematurely right away, I fear that we're going to go back to where we were at the beginning of the pandemic," she said. "And quite frankly, I think that we're going to go back to a place that was worse than before the pandemic."

This will be a budget decision, and the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has until the end of the session to decide what to do with the $43 million.

"If we say, 'hey, we have appropriated them for these purposes, then the federal government will reimburse us," Horman said.

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