New bonus program too small to impact Virginia’s childcare worker shortage, some say
RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – As the childcare industry grapples with staff shortages, some say a new state program offering bonuses to new hires is too restrictive to have an impact significant.
Virginie is new Back to Win Grant Program distributes allowances to encourage people to return to work. Eligible small businesses with less than 100 employees are entitled to up to $ 500 in federal funds per new hire after May 31 if they agree to match the contribution.
Child care providers are specifically exempt from the matchmaking requirement, but they still have to pay at least $ 15 per hour to meet program criteria. Some claim that this threshold will effectively disqualify the majority of providers.
“I don’t think that’s realistic for most child care providers in Virginia,” said Steve Traverso, director of development for the Friends Association for Children. He is currently trying to fill up to six positions in two Richmond locations. “Not a single open position earns $ 15 an hour. ”
A 2019 analysis put Virginia’s median salary for a child care worker at $ 10.96, a 7 percent increase from 2017.
Traverso said they had recently increased their wages in response to the first phase of the Virginia minimum wage increase and are preparing for the second phase in January. Still, he said wages for entry-level positions do not exceed $ 12 an hour and that a larger increase could shift the burden of costs onto families.
“Quite simply, our salary is not the level it needs to be to compete with other jobs in the retail and service industry,” Traverso said. “While other industries may adjust their service rates to offset increased labor costs, we lack the capacity to do so without doing our community a disservice and the pandemic does made it worse. “
Data from the Virginia Department of Social Services earlier this month showed that 589 of the state’s 6,042 child care programs were reported closed. That’s a far cry from the 2,421 closures reported during the same period last year.
However, many facilities are still operating well below their capacity to accommodate social distancing. Traverso said declining enrollment is straining budgets and leading to waiting lists building up statewide.
Virginia Child Care Association executive director Kim Hulcher said a lack of accessible and affordable child care could delay Virginia’s economic recovery.
“It’s a real problem. Families need child care to be able to return to work. Right now, we are just not able to support all the families who need our services, ”Hulcher said.
Some blamed the improved unemployment benefits for the staff shortage. At least 25 Republican governors have now announced their intention to halt the $ 300 federal boost before the September 6 expiration date set by Congress.
Northam said he had no intention of doing so. In fact, he presented Return to Earn bonuses as a different way of getting people back into the workforce.
When asked why the salary threshold of $ 15 an hour was chosen as a condition of eligibility, Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in a statement:
“Rather than subsidizing low and increasingly unsustainable wages, Return to Earn supports small businesses that are committed to paying their employees enough to support their families and put food on the table. Childcare companies may be uniquely positioned to offer competitive salaries at this time given the large number of flexible clawback funds that have been allocated to support them. “
Alena Yarmosky, spokesperson for Governor Ralph Northam
While Hulcher said federal COVID aid has helped counter the lost revenue, she said many vendors are still in survival mode. Plus, some don’t want to rely on one-time funding to pay for a long-term raise to $ 15 an hour.
“This is not funding that we can budget for in the future,” Traverso said. “Hope is not a plan.”
Hulcher said more permanent funding commitments using public funds are urgently needed to give essential workers a living wage.
“We need seismic changes in child care and we have seismic money coming into the state. We need those two things to come together to really uplift this industry, ”Hulcher said.
Later this summer, the Virginia General Assembly will meet to decide how providers should be able to spend an additional $ 488 million in child care stabilization grants allocated in the US bailout. To date, the Northam office said $ 197 million in direct payments has been distributed to more than 4,300 child care programs.
The Northam administration has also invested in what it hopes to become a sustained source of funding to recruit early childhood educators, with more than $ 5 million in additional funds offered in the current state budget, according to Yarmosky. .