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$70 million in grants available for child care programs in New York's underserved areas

North Country Public Radio.
North Country Public Radio.

SYRACUSE, NY (WRVO) - A lack of licensed child care is an issue that keeps many families mired in poverty in many areas of New York. The state now has $70 million in grants to help people start child care programs, especially in areas considered child care deserts.

Syracuse and Onondaga County are both deemed child care deserts because of the lack of child care options for families. And it is a problem according to Bettie Graham, Executive Director of the Determination Center, a child care center on Syracuse’s southside.

“Parents need to work in order to take care of their families” Graham said. “And when they don’t have anyone to take care of their kids, the kids are lacking.”

Lori Schakow, executive director of Childcare Solutions of CNY, said even before the pandemic, in Onondaga County, registered and licensed care was meeting about 1/3 of the need in the community. And for infants and toddlers that rate was only 15%. And the pandemic made it worse.

"Even for programs that have been able to keep the programs open, many have had to close classrooms, not because they don’t have children on waiting lists, but because they can’t find staff,” said Schakow.

Enter the state’s Child Care Deserts grant program. Joshua Michael King is the regional business advisor at Child Care Solutions, encouraging potential child care outfits.

“It’s important that as many people as possible try to access this fund,” said King. “It’s a highly competitive grant process which awards points based on census tract data and an algorithm that was created by the state.”

Bettie Graham is going to apply for the cash to help boost staffing at her daycare.

"It’s really hard because you can’t get staff and pay for staff because of the shortage of the money,” Graham said. “So this will help me get staff that is qualified and get kids the services they need."

The good news, said Schakow, since the new year, there has been a burst of applications for licensed child care businesses. She said the number of applications has tripled so far this year.

“About 25% of people who request an application follow through all the way and get a license,” said Schakow. “But if we have three times as many people requesting, we’ll get three times as many through the process."

And these new businesses will be able to apply for the grant. Applications are accepted through mid-May, for child care providers in underserved areas to build their programs, cover startup and personnel costs, recruit, train and retain staff.