Child care funding at forefront of Executive Council contracts
|Published: 06-28-2023 6:10 PM
If New Hampshire could solve the state-wide childcare pinch, improvements are expected to related problems with the state’s workforce shortage and economic growth. Simply put, it’s a domino effect of positive generational outcomes, according to Joe Kenney, who represents the state’s northern districts on the Executive Council.
And it’s clear state leaders agree.
Last week Governor Chris Sununu signed his biennial budget and trailer bill into law, which invested $15 million into the state’s childcare workforce. Now, the Executive Council approved just over $12 million in funding focused on childcare as well.
“If we can solve childcare in the state, we can solve pretty much everything else,” said Kenney at the council’s final meeting of the fiscal year.
While New Hampshire was recently ranked as the top state for children's well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a lack of access to childcare still looms overhead.
In October of 2021, stakeholders in the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and the childcare sector were asked how to spend almost $30 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan.
This group identified four main areas to address for children in New Hampshire: increase access to affordable childcare, build out the workforce, improve the quality of services offered and strengthen the overall system with state and local infrastructure and programming.
This funding must be spent by Sept. 30. With the contracts approved by the Executive Council at its Wednesday meeting, the state has allocated $20.6 million so far.
This includes $1.3 million to the Southern New Hampshire Service Inc., which is the Community Action Program for Rockingham and Hillsborough counties, to create a network of childcare services for families in the area.
Another contract focused primarily on the business structure of facilities, approving $3.5 million in funding for a Child Care Business Improvement Project. With this money, providers can focus on operational metrics like building health, mortgages and other expenses and strategic planning.
The funding also instates a partnership with the University of New Hampshire to provide tuition assistance to childcare center staff to take courses working towards professional qualifications focused on early childhood education and care.
And as many centers shutter after struggling to pay and retain staff, those attempting to open a new facility often face similar issues.
The Boys and Girls Club’s expansion in Warner knows this all too well.
In September, Charlie Albano, the chair of the town’s Economic Development Advisory Committee contacted the Boys and Girls Club about opening a new early childhood center to fill a vacancy in town left by the closure of Early Head Start.
With pay set at $18 an hour, including full benefits and free childcare, Albano hoped to open the center in October.
But the opening day came months later in May, after staffing struggles delayed the new facility.
Now, two employees are running the center, currently caring for five toddlers, despite a capacity for 20 children – 12 toddlers and 8 infants.
And often this care comes at a high cost. In Warner, families pay $275 per week for toddlers, with the price of infant care slightly higher at $300.
State-wide the average cost to care for toddlers sat at $12,496 from 2020-21. This is 31% of a single mother’s median income in New Hampshire, according to New Futures, a statewide advocacy group.
The Boys and Girls Club of Central New Hampshire, which is in Concord and supports the Warner facility, will see an additional $1.25 million in funding thanks to an approved contract to prove child care beyond school hours through June 30, 2025.
The Executive Council also approved funds to provide childcare scholarships through Family Resource Centers across the state. Over $2 million will go to efforts to expand marketing for these programs, which offer assistance for families who are enrolled in the Financial Assistance to Needy Families program or has a gross monthly income at or below 220% of the federal poverty guidelines.
Since March of 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services has used federal relief funding from the pandemic to invest $113 million into childcare statewide.