County will invest up to $25 million in CARES Act funding to support child care providers, expand child care subsidy, assist school districts in creating virtual learning support centers
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Deputy County Executive Maria Whyte on Thursday announced Erie County will be designating a portion of its coronavirus relief funds, up to $25 million, from the U.S. CARES Act in a sweeping effort to support local parents, child care providers, and school districts as the new school year gets underway.
Working closely with partners in child care and education, Erie County will allocate up to $4 million in CARES Act funding for direct support to child care providers while also investing up to $10 million to replenish and expand the child care subsidy to include families earning up to 85% of the state median income. Additionally, up to $11 million in funding will be allocated for the creation of new virtual learning support centers countywide in close partnership with Erie 1 and Erie 2 BOCES as well as school districts across Erie County. This grant funding will be available to applicants through Dec. 30.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been the health crisis of our lifetime and has had ripple effects across all of our lives and our economy,” Poloncarz said. “As this crisis has continued to unroll across our community, we have been working with partners in numerous sectors to identify areas of need and facilitate ways to help our residents.”
Whyte added, “Investing funding from the U.S. CARES Act for child care in Erie County makes sense and provides support both to caregivers needing child care solutions and to school districts struggling with the challenges of a new educational paradigm. With this funding we can provide immediate and direct relief to child care providers and caregivers, easing some of their financial burdens and giving them more options. We are also collaborating with schools to further support them in their mission to provide our children with the best possible education, even in the time of COVID-19.”
Poloncarz and Whyte were joined at the announcement by Erie County Legislator Lisa Chimera (3rd District), a mother, educator and member of the Erie County Emergency Childcare Task Force. That group has been working with partners since March to address child care challenges faced by caregivers, particularly working parents, during the coronavirus pandemic. With this multipronged initiative child care providers across Erie County will have access to up to $4 million in direct financial support to address the loss of revenue they suffered during the pandemic while working families and caregivers will benefit from an expansion of the child care subsidy to include families earning up to 85% of the state median income.
“As a working mother and an educator, I empathize with all of the parents struggling to balance work, school and child care,” Chimera said. “I am grateful for Erie County’s investment of $25 million for continued child care subsidies, child care facilities, and for virtual learning resources across our county. I want to thank County Executive Poloncarz for working closely with the Childcare Task Force to develop solutions for working parents in our community.”
Also joining in the announcement was Dr. Will Keresztes, Ed.D., chief of intergovernmental affairs, planning and community engagement for the Buffalo Public Schools.
Cognizant of the challenges faced by working parents and caregivers as schools drew nearer to reopening, the task force worked with Erie 1 BOCES and local school districts to develop plans for child care needs using input from a countywide survey conducted over recent weeks. It said 89% of the survey’s respondents indicated they had a need for child care when school resumes, with 54% indicating they would need up to four days of child care and 21% indicating a five-day need for child care. Moreover, 75% of all respondents are in need of child care for ages 5-11. This amounts to at least 6,500 families in Erie County and likely many more who did not respond to the survey.
The survey also sought a clearer understanding of how many parents need help supervising their children on virtual learning days – days when children are not physically in the school space – in districts across Erie County. Results showed the demand for virtual learning support significantly exceeds the capacity in the existing child care system countywide. This initiative provides grant funding of up to $11 million to help districts and their partners creatively and rapidly increase the capacity and help meet the demand for virtual learning support for children and families.
“Throughout the COVID-19 school closure, the county executive and his team have provided reliable support for all Erie County school districts,” Keresztes said. “In Buffalo, we're especially appreciative of Deputy County Executive Maria Whyte and her creative leadership in addressing the child care challenge. This opportunity is coming with the right strategies at just the right time.”
A press release said, “Child care was and remains the backbone of the entire workforce system. Without child care, many families, including families supported by teachers, are contemplating extensive leaves of absence from jobs. Child care has also been an important topic for the Erie County Business Assistance Task Force, with many employers worried about their workforce reporting to work while schools are engaged in virtual learning models. Leaving school-aged children home alone to take charge of their own education (and in some cases the education of their younger siblings) while their parents work and try to financially support their families is simply not a sustainable option.”