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Montana to use federal money to boost child care capacity

June 27, 2021 GMT

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — More than $30 million of federal funding could be directed toward expanding child care capacity in Montana under recommendations approved by a state health advisory commission.

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The commission approved up to $31 million for the state health department to administer grants to expand child care in the state, the Montana State News Bureau reported Thursday. The commission, which is made up of three members of the executive branch and seven lawmakers, is tasked with directing coronavirus relief dollars.

The grants will be used to increase worker pay and benefits and help with the cost of rent for facilities, among other uses.

The commission also approved $6.8 million in administrative spending to help people apply for grants and learn how to better run their businesses.

The recommendations next go to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte for final approval.

A lack of access to child care in Montana was already hurting parents in the workforce before the pandemic, according to a 2019 report by the Montana Department of Labor & Industry. The report found licensed child care providers in the state met less than half the estimated demand.

The health department estimated that 171 child care programs closed in Montana at the height of the pandemic. In a survey conducted by the department, about 42% of parents said they could not afford child care services.

Child care providers attributed demand challenges to high staff turnover because of low compensation.

Providers said increasing pay for child care workers would begin to address some of the issues. The health department reported that child care workers earn an annual median income of $22,860.

All federal coronavirus relief funding must be spent by September 2023.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to utilize this funding for the best in terms of trying to build capacity so that when this funding goes away, we’ve left an infrastructure much better than we’ve found it,” health department Director Adam Meier said during Thursday’s commission meeting.

Montana is set to receive a total of more than $68 million in coronavirus relief funds for child care stabilization. Future grants could go toward establishing new child care facilities.