State makes more funding available for Alaska childcare providers, but some providers say it isn’t enough

Camp Fire Alaska staff prepare to greet kids and conduct a health screening every morning at a check-in desk in Eagle River. Camp Fire has offered emergency child care for first responders and health-care workers during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo courtesy Camp Fire Alaska)

Alaska’s Child Care Program Office will distribute an additional $10.5 million to childcare providers, the Department of Health and Social Services announced in an email Thursday evening.

The additional money is “one-time funding,” according to the announcement. The office said it has distributed all of the federal funds it was allocated and “does not anticipate any additional payments to assist in capacity building.” This latest round of relief will come from the state’s share of federal CARES Act money.

Childcare providers and advocates welcome the funding but say it doesn’t go far enough. thread CEO Stephanie Berglund said childcare providers will need more help.

“While the state support is a huge significant amount and will greatly help childcare we know the need is going to continue,” Berglund said. “It’s not a short term need, it’s going to continue well into the continuation of COVID and after to recovery.”

Providers and advocates have been lobbying the legislature for more funds after an initial round of relief ran out almost immediately, despite the department’s anticipation that it would last for three months.

Related: Childcare providers say they’re falling through the cracks without pandemic recovery aid

In April, the Childcare Program Office announced that it would make relief payments to childcare providers to cover losses and expenses for March, April, and May.

Alaska’s childcare providers initially requested a total of $9 million. But the office was only allocated $6.4 million in federal CARES Act funds, an amount the state discovered after announcing the plan for monthly payments to providers. The state kicked in funding to cover the rest of the initial request.

Thursday’s announcement said the additional $10.5 million in relief for providers would be for both April and May payments.

Debra Rodriguez is the Executive Director of Bright Beginnings Early Learning Center in Anchorage. She said she will receive significantly less funding this time than her business received during the first round of funding.

“They’re offering us a fraction of that amount to satisfy what they had originally obligated to us. We’re grateful for it, we’ll take it but we’re still going to be fighting for more assistance,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe it won’t be through the childcare program office, they made it very clear that this is it for them. It doesn’t make me happy but we’re going to still be seeking that funding.”

The office encouraged childcare providers to seek additional assistance from “local municipalities, nonprofit relief through the Alaska Community Foundation, and through the AK CARES grant program.”

But Berglund at thread said accepting assistance from a federal program could make providers ineligible for other grant programs. Berglund said thread will continue to advocate for more funding, especially at the city and local level.