Maine child care facilities will get an additional $8.4 million in federal coronavirus relief funds – a critical investment for an industry that, like so many others, has struggled to weather the pandemic.

Gov. Janet Mills announced the funds Friday, but said they represent only a portion of what’s needed for the more than 1,700 facilities scattered across the state.

“Maine’s working families are weathering the challenges posed by this pandemic while our child care providers have kept their children healthy and safe,” Mills said in a statement. “This investment will further support them and our economy as we approach the fall. But Congress must do more to help child care providers recover and ensure that families have access to quality, affordable care.”

Allorah Johnson, left, shows off her shoes to Little Owl’s Day Care owner Peggy Cordwell at her day care in Norway in May. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Most child care centers and home-based day cares closed in March when the pandemic hit Maine. As of last week, 80 percent have reopened, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. That’s up from the approximately 50 percent that were open in April.

However, child care facilities are on average operating at 65 percent capacity, according to a survey of more than 1,200 respondents by the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children, an advocacy group. Reduced capacity and continued closures also worsen a shortage of child care in Maine, especially for infants, that existed before the pandemic.

Thirty percent of providers, according to the survey, have received a federal forgivable loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, a $660 billion federal effort that distributed loans to businesses representing many sectors of the economy.

Through the funding announced Friday, center-based providers will each receive up to $9,200 and family-based providers will each receive up to $950 to cover COVID-related expenses such as extra cleaning and supplies of personal protective equipment for staff and children.

“Over 80 percent of Maine’s child care providers are open, a testament to their commitment to health and safety precautions in partnership with the families they serve,” Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said. “This funding will further support relief, recovery, and accommodation of additional children, although funding from Congress for sustainability and stability is needed.”

The state is prepared to release an additional $2.8 million in federal relief funds to providers that are open and providing care by Sept. 8. Child care centers will receive an additional $2,800 in aid and family-based providers will receive an additional $550 in August.

More money is likely in the fall. Mills’ Economic Recovery Committee this week recommended $45 million for child care and after-school programming to help blunt increased costs.

It’s also likely that money for child care providers would be included in the next federal spending bill, which is being debated in Congress.

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