AUSTIN, Texas - Childcare facilities in Austin are anxious about a looming expiration date. The emergency childcare funding allocated during the pandemic is set to expire at the end of the month.
Hillside Early Childhood Center is a nonprofit and serves many people who may not be able to afford childcare. It’s been open since 2018. The head of school said when the COVID pandemic hit, they closed for about 2.5 months. When they opened back up, it was as if they were starting all over.
"We started off with seven kids that came back at first and so it took a while to build that enrollment back up. We suffered greatly with the tuition we were receiving, and so I wouldn't say we were really at a point where we were going to have to close down, but we were getting very scared and very nervous as a new school. It hit us pretty hard," Hillside Early Childhood Center Head of School Suzanne Garza said.
They then received funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, which included $24 billion in childcare stabilization grants.
"The funding allowed us to stay open as people felt comfortable coming back to school, and we were able to kind of regain our footing a little bit, and then we lost a ton of staff, and it was really hard to recover staff," Garza said. "So we were able to use that funding to increase salaries to bring good quality educated staff members back into our program."
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Garza said they have just now been able to recover, get back to their regular operating hours, and start growing as a program, but the funding that helped them be able to do that, may be gone soon.
If Congress doesn’t extend funding, reports show more than 3 million children could lose access to formal childcare and more than 70,000 childcare programs could shut down.
"We in this area are in a childcare desert. There’s only four quality programs in the area for families, and so our waiting list now has exceeded our enrollment," Garza said. "Losing that funding is going to kind of keep us at where we are and not allow us for a lot of growth and really forcing us to do a lot more fundraising to make it all work."
Lawmakers have introduced the Childcare Stabilization Act which would bring $16 billion a year for the next 5 years in grants to childcare programs, but it hasn’t been passed yet.
"We hope that Congress takes action and ensures that this funding is available to at a minimum give us time to provide a lasting solution to ensure that we're not just facing one crisis after the next when it comes to childcare," Texans Care for Children David Feigen said.
Advocates say that investing in early childcare development is important, and that it’s our future.