RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – State health officials are warning this week of a crisis facing the childcare industry in North Carolina, as a federal program that’s helped to keep daycares and preschools open is about to end.
More than 4,000 child care facilities in North Carolina have received about $835 million in federally funded childcare stabilization grants, according to Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) office.
Alicia Fink, one of the owners of Oak Village Academy in Cary, said it uses the funding it received to pay workers higher hourly wages and quarterly bonuses. She said that helped with retention and hiring, but she worries about what will happen across North Carolina when the funding ends later this year.
“I’m petrified,” Fink said. “I don’t think that we’re going to be able to have an early childhood industry like we have prior to COVID. And, without the funds, I don’t see the industry being able to survive as we know it.”
The issue has caught the attention of a bipartisan group of state lawmakers who recently pitched using $300 million in state funding to extend the program another two years. They called it their top request as part of a package of legislation aimed at improving access to childcare as many parents struggle.
The request has the backing of the NC Chamber of Commerce, that cited the challenge a variety of businesses are facing in hiring workers, as parents grapple with the affordability and availability of quality child care.
“The federal government has propped up childcare over the last two years, and we’ve got a cliff that we are facing coming up,” Rep. David Willis (R-Union) said at a press conference last month. “Without those dollars, we’re going to lose a significant number of childcare providers across the state.”
That funding was not included in the budget the state House of Representatives plans to vote on this week.
Negotiations on a finalized budget will continue over the next couple months as the Senate crafts its own version and the two chambers try to find a compromise plan to send to Gov. Cooper.
Gov. Cooper recently urged Congress to provide more funding for child care, noting how much the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the industry.
He said as of 2021, North Carolina had 3,120 fewer childcare workers than the state would have had if pre-pandemic employment trends had continued.
Susan Perry, the chief deputy secretary of the NC Dept. of Health and Human Services, visited Oak Village Academy as part of the nationally recognized Week of the Young Child. Senior leaders in NCDHHS plan to visit other child care facilities this week to highlight the issue facing the industry with the end of the stabilization grants.
“Child care is often very expensive for families to afford. But, at the same time, it’s a business that really operates at very thin margins. So, it really needs the extra support,” Perry said. “I think childcare is the bedrock of our economy, and I think business knows it.”