Tamara Gallagher typically looks after a dozen children at Growing Tree Childcare, which she operates out of her home in Westbrook.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, however, that number has dwindled to three to five per day.

“It’s been a struggle for parents,” Gallagher said. “Some parents can’t pay. Some parents lost their jobs. And then there are some who are essential workers.”

Some relief arrived Wednesday with the news that Maine received nearly $11 million in federal funding to support access to child care for the state’s essential workers and to provide relief for child care providers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The money is part of the CARES Act and comes through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for the Children and Families’ Child Care and Development Block Grant program.

What that means for roughly 2,000 child care providers in Maine is a one-time stipend dependent on licensed capacity and whether the business remains open or has closed. If closed, the amount is $75 per child slot. If open, the amount is $175 per slot.

“It definitely helps,” Gallagher said. “Being open has been a struggle for all of us, for the parents and for the providers.”

Parents who work outside the home in a capacity deemed essential are temporarily eligible to receive assistance for child care without regard to income. Payments on their behalf will go directly to child care providers.

“Since child care is pretty limited now because a lot of programs have closed, it offers flexibility to look for other child care programs if you’re an essential worker,” said Heather Marden, who works at Birchwood Day Nursery School in Windham and is board president of the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children.

Birchwood closed in late March.

“Everyone knew this was coming, but I think everyone was relieved to finally hear (Wednesday) that money would be coming to them,” Marden said, “and that there would be additional opportunities for grants outside this one-time stipend to help programs stay open and re-open.”

Sasha Shunk of Portland hopes to re-open her child care business in June, and knows she will need additional cleaning equipment as well as a better thermometer. She said that’s where additional grant funding will come into play.

For parents who participate in the Child Care Subsidy Program, all current awards have been extended for three months to allow more time for documentation and DHHS is paying the parent portion of child care costs directly to providers.

“While people throughout Maine are staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we all rely on the essential employees, from doctors and nurses to grocery store workers, state employees and others, who are reporting to work each day,” said Gov. Janet Mills in a prepared statement. “This funding will help our essential workers care for their children and support our child care providers.”

Jane Purdy, owner of Little Friends Early Learning and Child Care Center in Freeport, said she remained open despite numbers dropping from 22 children to about 10 because families remained in need. She said she and other providers have adapted payment schedules.

“This is a business that is based on emotions and people and families, not on financial gains,” she said. “Albeit obviously we all need and want to get paid. The center cannot maintain itself without income, and parents with pay cuts or no jobs can’t pay. Then you can’t pay staff or bills. It’s a vicious tripod of interdependence. I won’t be surprised if many can’t maintain, me included.”


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