Maria and Matt Doegler of Marshall are expecting their first child, a baby boy who they plan to name Croix, at the end of September. They were unable to find a child care center for Croix because so many have closed due to COVID-19. (Photo © Andy Manis)
Maria and Matt Doegler of Marshall are expecting their first child, a baby boy who they plan to name Croix, at the end of September. They were unable to find a child care center for Croix because so many have closed due to COVID-19. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Providers can apply for the CARES funds to cover safety, staffing expenses.

Access to early childhood education and child care has been an issue for young working families for some time but the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted many providers to close their doors and caregivers to leave due to the health risks, has highlighted its importance to the economy at large. 

On Tuesday, Gov. Tony Evers along with the state Department of Children and Families Secretary Emilie Amundson announced an additional round of $50 million in funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will be made available for child care providers to mitigate the increased health and safety costs due to the virus and the increased cost to recruit and retain staff.

According to a press release from DCF, the state has allocated a total of $130 million in CARES funds to bolster the flailing child care industry and early childhood education. In March, 1,729 providers in the state, or approximately 40%,  reported they had to close. That number is now at 5.3%, or 237 providers. 

“Throughout our public health emergency, Wisconsin has been a leader in prioritizing the needs of the early care and education community,” Evers stated in the  release. “We know what’s best for kids is best for our state, and we have to connect the dots by making sure our families have access to safe, affordable, and high-quality child care so more people can remain in our workforce.”

By mid-May, nearly 4 out of every 10 of the state’s 4,500 child care centers had closed, according to a report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum. Also that month, 19 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties had closure rates of 50 percent or higher, including Portage, Adams, Marquette, Calumet, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, Ozaukee, Waukesha, and Walworth counties. In Milwaukee County 31% of its 1,287 child care providers reported they closed due to the virus. All three providers in Menominee County closed. 

Wisconsin received roughly $53 million earmarked for hazard pay and program operating costs for child care centers in April through the CARES Act. To be eligible for the funds, centers had to reopen or remain open, which many did only to close once children and employees contracted the virus or they learned they couldn’t afford to operate at 25 or 50% capacity.

The latest round of funding will be distributed through two programs: one to pay for additional health and safety expenses and one to recruit and pay child care workers at higher wages. While the cost of child care is high for families, child care workers are one of the lowest-paid professionals in the U.S., with a median wage of $10.31 and 39.3% earning less than $17, the median hourly wage for other industries.

“I want to thank the governor for his commitment to Wisconsin’s children and families,” Amundson stated in the release. “And I also want to thank the thousands of early-care educators who have provided a safe, high-quality home for children to learn and grow during these unprecedented times. You’ve helped families like mine and allowed women like me to remain connected to the workforce and their careers.”

More details on this round and applications are scheduled to become available on Oct. 26. and will be accepted through Nov. 6.