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Child care providers receive $30M, but worry fix is only temporary

(WKOW) -- After Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) announced $30 million of federal CARES funding to help the early child care industry Thursday, many child care providers were relieved -- but some worry it could be too little, too late.

Brooke Skidmore right now has half as many kids as she could at The Growing Tree in New Glarus because teacher pay is so low.

"I have rooms that are sitting empty because I don't have teachers," she said.

The pay is low because funding for early child care has so far been scarce throughout the summer, and she hasn't been able to afford to offer wages high enough to compete with similar industries.

Corrine Hendrickson has struggled through the pandemic, as well. She runs Corrine's Little Explorers in New Glarus -- a much smaller operation, but still one that's stretched her finances thin.

That's why she was glad to see the $30 million coming.

"It's going to give us PPE, which we've been begging for since March," Hendrickson said. "It's also going to give us incentive pay to keep working and also to find people."

But as much as the money will help, it will run out eventually -- and Skidmore worries that could be soon.

"This would only last possibly six to eight weeks," she said.

With funding packages coming so slowly, she's worried about how long she can stay open.

"We're trying to make it at least until the end of the year," Skidmore said.

Beyond just funding, many child care providers are looking for other changes to help them stay afloat.

As a smaller center, Hendrickson can only have eight kids at a time right now. To take nine, she would need to be reclassified -- a complicated and costly process.

"Most of our homes aren't going to pass a commercial inspection," she said. "It's all temporary. As soon as the kids can go back to school, I'll go right down to having my eight or fewer children."

Hendrickson is working with legislators right now to lift the cap.

In a statement to our Madison affiliate, 27 News, the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families said,

Early in the pandemic, the department granted waivers on capacity for family-based centers... It has come to our attention that in granting waivers for more than eight children, we subjected family-based centers, which operate out of their homes, to commercial building codes. We are working on exploring solutions to this challenge.

Between letters to lawmakers, loan applications and more, child care providers are stretched thin -- on top of actually providing child care.

"It's odd as a business that a lot of us will not be able to make it through this," Skidmore said. "Even though there's a demand for this."

The Governor's office says there were 4,444 child care providers on January 1, 2020. More than 1,700 closed their doors at the height of the pandemic, and more than 500 were still closed as of last week.

Neena Pacholke

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