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ID Child-Care Centers Raise Alarms, Await Federal-Funding OK

Oksana Kuzmina/Adobe Stock
About 200 child-care centers have closed in Idaho since September.

Idaho child-care providers closed their doors and came to the doors of the Capitol this week to call on lawmakers to approve federal funding for their facilities.

Although Idaho's legislative session is still going on, lawmakers have not approved nearly $100 million from the American Rescue Plan Act for child care, recommended by Gov. Brad Little.

Since September, 200 centers have closed their doors. Even for centers that haven't closed, drops in enrollment have hit them hard.

Mackenzie Allen, director of Circle of Care Developmental Preschool near Coeur d'Alene, said the pandemic has been difficult.

"In one year, we lost eight employees," Allen recounted. "This pandemic has affected so many of us, and it has been a daily struggle to maintain our workforce due to things like illness, stress and not being able to meet the enhanced unemployment benefits that are being offered."

In April, lawmakers decided not to approve $200 million for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare because of concerns with $34 million approved in the December COVID-19 relief bill for child care, according to the Idaho Capital Sun. Some legislators questioned whether that much money was needed for care centers.

Jane Gordon, a mother of two young children in a Boise child-care center, said she and her husband both work, and their lives would change radically if the center closed.

"I can't do my best work when I'm scrambling to figure a child-care schedule," Gordon asserted. "More importantly, I can't be the best mom when I'm trying to squeeze in work from my phone in the living room, or I'm trying to field calls while making mac and cheese."

Betty McQuain, a faculty member at BYU-Idaho's Department of Home and Family and a former child-care provider, said Idaho's economy depends on child care, but believes without approval from lawmakers of these funds, it could become inaccessible for many Idahoans.

"We are not far from falling into a situation in which only the wealthy will be able to afford child care and the most needy and vulnerable of Idaho's citizens will bear the greatest costs," McQuain contended.

Child-care providers and parents hope the Legislature approves funds before the session adjourns. After this session ends, Idaho lawmakers will likely not come back to the Capitol until at least September.