Ulster County expands childcare subsidies for working families

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

There’s a breath of good news in the air for Ulster County families struggling with childcare expenses during the current public health crisis. For the next six weeks at least, more people will qualify for subsidies, and more sites will offer places for kids to learn outside the home, thanks to the next phase of Project Resilience, the county’s organized response to the pandemic.

Here in Ulster, parents’ cries of anguish reached the ears of county executive Pat Ryan. There was a little money left in the coffers when Phase One of the public-private partnership Project Resilience came to a close in late May, after having delivered close to 300,000 meals to isolated residents. County officials sounded out their constituents about their most unmet needs in this time of crisis. The resounding response was: We desperately need more resources for childcare.

The need for these services is urgent. 

Aside from the people who actually fall ill with Covid 19, their loved ones and the frontline healthcare workers who care for them, perhaps the most severely stressed segment of the U.S. population during this pandemic has been families with young children. Although kids themselves appear to be less susceptible than adults to the infection, keeping them home and in school at the same time has proven a tremendous burden to many working parents.

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For many of the “working poor,” that means multiple jobs in the service sector, where their roles are often considered “essential,” though their pay is close enough to minimum wage to mean that there’s no family budget left for child \care after the rent, utility and food bills are paid. Not everyone has a network of nearby family who can step into the gap.

Employers these days, especially in retail, schedule most workers for just under full-time hours, so that they won’t qualify for benefits. In such cases, working two jobs can become a necessity to make ends meet. And if your employer is offering hours at all, you can’t turn them down to be with your kids and still collect unemployment. Many parents now find themselves at a crisis point, torn between harsh financial realities and the needs of their children.

For single parents, coping with the multiplied demands on their time is an especially nightmarish challenge – the more so now that the school year is under way. How does one manage when one is expected to go to work while ensuring that the children are safely supervised and learning at the same time? Even if you work from home, you still need to get stuff done, and who’s going to manage the homeschooling? Where is the money for childcare supposed to come from?

Funding now available

Last week, Pat Ryan announced in one of his regular Facebook Live presentations, “We have some funds left still that we have been using for food, but we recognize that childcare is a critical need as well. We’re shifting some of those funds and setting up, at least initially, a $200,000 fund specially for a Project Resilience Child Care Initiative.”

It’s a two-pronged approach: Half the funds will go to expand the number of families which qualify for reduced costs for childcare, while the other half will be awarded as “scholarships” for school-aged children to attend learning programs, expanding the number of sites where subsidized care can be offered throughout the county. The allocated funding for six weeks of the program became available this week. Ryan projects that “hundreds of families” in the county will benefit.

Through a partnership with Family of Woodstock, Ulster County families whose annual incomes are at or below 200 percent of the poverty level are already able to have 75 percent of their childcare expenses funded by the Ulster County Department of Social Services. The income limits are $34,480 for a family of two, $43,440 for three people, $52,400 for four, $61,360 for five, $70,320 for six, $79,280 for seven, and $88,240 for eight. 

Through the Project Resilience Child Care Initiative, the eligibility requirement is being raised to 300 percent. Families above the 200 percent threshold can have half their childcare costs covered. Families of two earning up to $51,720, $65,160 for three, $78,600 for four, $92,040 for five, $105,480 for six, $118,920 for seven and $132,360 for eight can get some aid.

Agency programs expanded

Developed in partnership with the United Way of Ulster County, the second prong of this Project Resilience initiative will provide scholarships for enrollment in school-aged children programs throughout the county. Programs are being offered in all nine school districts and at Ulster County Community College, through traditional childcare centers and organizations such as the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club. 

In many cases, agencies that previously offered before-school and after-school programs for the convenience of working parents will now be able to expand them to last for the entire school day, alleviate the financial pressures on stressed families.  Options will also be created  to keep young students learning remotely in a safer, more socially distanced environment than a classroom.

“I want to thank our many partners for realizing this critical need and coming together to find creative solutions,” Ryan said. Agencies currently supporting the Project Resilience Child Care Initiative include the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, United Way of Ulster County, Family of Woodstock and its Child Care Resource and Referral Program, the Ulster County Child Care Council, YMCA of Kingston, Healthy Kids Extended Day Program, Ulster County Community Action, SUNY Ulster, Ulster BOCES, the Boys & Girls Club, the Center for Creative Education, and other school-aged care program providers.

For additional information, call the Ulster County Recovery Service Center at 443-8888 or visit https://covid19.ulstercountyny.gov/schools. For more information and help to locate childcare programs in your area that have available slots, contact Family of Woodstock, Inc.’s Child Care Connections referral service at 331-7080 or www.familyofwoodstockinc.org/ccc/for-families/need-child-care.

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