Photo: Yan Krukov from Pexels

Although the pandemic has devastated early education and care programs, states have been able to create some stability thanks to federal Covid relief funds.

This historically high funding was delivered through three federal acts:

• the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), March 2020

• the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA), December 2020, and

• the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), March 2021

“This influx of funding was a historic and critical investment for a system in crisis,” according to a new analysis of the impact of federal relief funds on the child care sector from the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation (MTF).

The relief funding invested $28.5 billion in the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program, including $372.7 million for Massachusetts. These funds were used for vital efforts, including reopening grants; subsidized spots for children; covering operational costs; workforce investments; and technical assistance to support the distribution of grants.

In addition, MTF explains, “ARPA allocated $23 billion to a new child care program for states: the Child Care Stabilization Fund. This program was created to address the financial burdens faced by providers during the pandemic and prevent a further reduction in the supply of child care as states recover.”

Massachusetts has also received $5.3 billion in Fiscal Recovery Funds. And while this funding is not designated specifically for child care, it does “offer policymakers options for child care investment.”

In a meeting last week, the Board of the Department of Early Education and Care discussed the positive impact of these funds.

A State House News story provides more details, explaining that the Massachusetts’ Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) has so far distributed about “$150 million in grants aimed at helping to stabilize child care infrastructure… and the money has helped programs sustain their operations and invest in staff.”

Earlier this year, EEC also “used federal funds to launch its Commonwealth Cares for Children operational grants and last month conducted a survey of grant recipients.” The survey generated 5,000 responses. Of these, 95 percent “reported using the funding immediately to sustain their operations, and 11 percent indicated they were in danger of closing in the next six months…”

The article adds that Associate Commissioner Jocelyn Bowne said:

“Overall, 94 percent of programs do report that they need to continue to receive these grants over the next three months to sustain operations, so programs are not yet out of some of the operational challenges that they faced.”

“And when you look at enrollment numbers, I think you can see why that might be. The enrollment numbers are still down, although they have been growing over the time that the grant has been in place.”

As the pandemic goes on, uncertainty and instability will remain, but federal funds can continue to create some stability.

In its analysis, MTF concludes that using Federal Relief Funds for child care “could be a critical tool” for sustaining support, “improving quality and access, and potentially informing system changes for future federal investment.”

It’s this future investment that would not only stabilize child care but help it become stronger than it ever has been.