By Okon Ekpenyong
Under President Joe Biden’s administration, an additional $1.9 trillion covid relief funds went into law on March 1, 2021. It is known as the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, designed to help the economy recovery from one of its worst recessions while in the middle of a world Pandemic.
In June 2021, Columbus announced that they had received 187 million in federal funds as part of the American Rescue Plan Act that would best serve the community’s needs in response to the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Covid 19 Relief funds have helped many small businesses, public and private sectors, as well as others, to rebound from the Pandemic’s financial struggles. Those funds helped retain and hire more staff and keep their doors open to continue on its mission of serving the community.
One of those industries that suffered the most was daycares and learning centers. So, on September 20, 2021, the city of Columbus announced that an additional $3.5 million of those funds would go towards the new childcare initiative.
Mayor Andrew Ginther introduced the new initiative at the Heavenly Kids Learning Center. Council President Pro Tempore, Elizabeth Brown, and the newly appointed Franklin County Commissioner, Erica Crawley, were key speakers at the press conference.
Commissioner Crawley previously who served a full term at the Ohio State House of Representative, decided to run for the vacant Commissioner seat a few months into her second term.
Council President Pro Tempore Brown and Commissioner Crawley spoke at great lengths on the importance of the new initiative from a mother’s perspective.
“City Council still needs to vote to approve the new legislation, and it will help create many job opportunities for an industry that so many families depend on,” Brown said.
$2.5 million will benefit those who are not qualified to receive public-funded childcare assistance because they make slightly above the income requirement. The rest of the funds will go towards the recruitment of childcare workers via a marketing campaign.
One of the significances of the new initiative is to ensure that children under the age of five have the tools and resources to be kindergarten ready.
Questions to the Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther:
Can other organizations such as nonprofit organizations and community centers that provide services for youth and families apply for those care dollars?
Mayor Ginther: As long as the agency meets two criteria: providers and want their staff to receive these bonuses and parents who make too much to be eligible for publicly funded childcare, these resources will help them provide that childcare for their kids.
Do you think that the public will be receptive to the new initiative?
Mayor Ginther: We wanted not to have high-quality providers here and public advocates for the business community because I know the biggest challenge for most of our employers, public, nonprofit, or private, or higher education, is labor and the labor shortage that’s out there. 1.8 million women in America came out of the workforce, and they have not returned. It is one of the significant barriers for women, particularly women of color in this community, and this will go a long way towards addressing that. It will help our economy grow more and more by putting more people to work and make our community stronger.
To learn more about what the childcare industry is doing to keep the kids safe during the Pandemic, we spoke to the Executive Direct at Heavenly Kids Learning Center in Columbus, Ohio.
Misti Norman is the Executor Director at Heavenly Kids Center for Learning, located in Downtown Columbus. The family-owned and operated early learning center has received funds from the city to help provide free preschool to families who qualify for childcare and works with parents who do not qualify for Title 20. The grants were made possible under former Mayor Michael Coleman and the current Mayor Andrew Ginther. A parent looking for childcare services, the Center provides infant-toddler, preschool and head Start, School-age and summer camp programs.
What initiatives are they putting in place to keep staff and students safe?
We are mask mandating whether they are not vaccinated or not. We check the temperature of staff and students regularly, and there is a low teacher/student ratio in the classroom. We eliminated families entering the building, but the center has specific individuals who walk the kids out to their families at the end of the day. The State’s mandate for Childcare centers at the start of the Pandemic remains active at our learning center.
How will this initiative address Centers and schools that don’t have funds to provide PPE Supplies?
That is key, and the big-ticket item by getting the funds. We desire to have a safe and sanitary facility, but we cannot do it if we do not have the funds and the means to do those things.
Do you think the public will be receptive to the new initiative?
If you don’t have childcare, the workforce cannot go to work. We have to stabilize the foundation to maximize our job force because 1.8million of women are at home due to a lack of childcare. Give them childcare, get them back to work. Those families who do not qualify for Title 20 can apply for those funds, which is part of the initiative that Mayor Andrew Ginther had mentioned. Having funds that we can tap into to help families, in that case, will get them back on the right path to receive childcare.
An educator with Heavenly Kids Learning Center Tonya Kelly sad “I’ve worked in the daycare center environment for six years, and now that I am a teacher. The school’s principal keeps us updated on how Covid-19 is changing centers and how schools are providing more CARE Act dollars to keep us in school. Because right now, it’s at the discretion of the school district to shut down. There is no legislation for a hybrid because the recent proposal did not pass at the statehouse”.
Tonya Kelly is the co-founder of Empower our youth foundation and an educator. The foundation is an anti-bullying campaign that works with students and families to provide resources to help address bullying before it happens. As an educator, one of Mrs. Kelly’s most significant advocacies is providing resources to families to ensure their children are safe and have the educational means to succeed.