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Increased payments to help SC families pay for childcare, keep more childcare centers open

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 8:31 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Department of Social Services has allocated more money to help families afford childcare.

The state reports more than 17,000 children are enrolled in the SC Voucher program, through which parents can receive assistance to pay for childcare. Parents must be working or attending school or training to qualify for the voucher program.

Under this, DSS sends weekly reimbursement payments to those kids’ childcare centers, which must participate in the ABC Quality program.

The extent of the new increase depends on a number of factors, including the child’s age and where the childcare center is located.

But DSS gives the example that for a baby younger than a year old, a childcare center could have previously received a maximum $205 weekly payment for them to attend, but with the increase, that payment is now as much as $296.

“That means less money for them that they have to pay for tuition or whatever the case may be. They get to keep that money in their pocket, and the childcare center provider will be reimbursed with that,” DSS Public Information Coordinator Danielle Jones said.

The state’s early childhood agency, South Carolina First Steps, said this increased aid will not just make childcare more affordable to families, but in many cases, it allows them to have access to it.

The agency reports 40% of South Carolina’s children live in areas where there is low access to childcare, meaning for every three kids in need of childcare in these areas, there is only one slot available.

South Carolina First Steps’ executive director, Georgia Mjartan, said these increased payments will help resolve that problem and hire more teachers.

“When a childcare provider can barely break even or is losing money by providing infant and toddler care, they can only stay open so long. They can’t pay their workforce, the teachers, who impact young children and their developing brains every day,” she said.

Mjartan said if childcare centers close, even temporarily, it forces more parents to stay at home to watch their kids, preventing them from getting to their own workplace.

But she said this additional money should keep more families out of that situation and on the job.

“That allows the childcare centers to stay open, it allows them to provide high-quality care to retain and recruit teachers, and ultimately, it makes childcare accessible in communities where it didn’t previously exist, frankly, because the childcare providers couldn’t afford to stay open,” Mjartan said.

The majority of the money to pay for this increase comes from the federal government, according to DSS.

“What they’re hoping is that, in the future, that this is something that we can continue to do to help families in need who are looking for childcare for their kids and also for childcare providers who are looking to keep their childcare centers open and they just need the extra boost or the extra help because the pandemic has put a strain on all of us,” Jones said.

The rate change is not automatic, so childcare providers enrolled in ABC Quality will need to apply for the pay increase through the state.

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