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Only 25% of state child care stimulus money spent

New York politicians have bellyached for months about the lack of federal COVID-19 support.

The state isn’t exactly quick spending the COVID-19 money it has received from the federal government quickly, either.

Sheila Poole, state Office of Children and Family Services commissioner, recently testified before a state Legislature budget hearing. The lack of emergency COVID stimulus money being paid out was one of the issues on the mind of state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay.

Borrello first called attention to the issue last August, when Borrello and area child care providers said almost half of the child care providers in the region have closed. Many, Borrello said, are unlikely to reopen.

“I think we can all agree that child care is truly the foundation of our economic recovery here,” Borrello said. “Our child care workers worked through this pandemic and they are truly front line workers. I can tell you that although I”m glad there’s more CARES funding, my first question is we had $163.4 million in the emergency CARES Act almost a year ago now. I know myself and Mr. Hevesi and others fought hard to try to get that money allocated. It took us months of a bipartisan effort and my understanding is that still, that $163.4 million is still not fully allocated. So we have $469 million coming again, but we still haven’t spent the money we had the first time. Meanwhile we’re seeing child care centers closing and not reopening. What’s the status of that original CARES Act funding?”

Of the $164.6 million dollars the state received in 2020, $30 million was allocated for subsidies for families as well as for supplies and personal protection equipment. Another $65 million was then earmarked for facilities that closed, were trying to reopen and those that were expanding.

“We’ve allocated the money,”Poole said. “It’s a matter now of having it claimed and paid out. We’ve got a ways to go. We have paid out, as of last week, close to $40 million of that money.”

The continued issues in getting the federal CARES Act money spent prompted Borrello to ask again how Poole plans to get the next round of CARES Act money out to child care providers more quickly.

“What’s the plan then for the $469 million to ensure that this money get out quickly?” Borrello asked. “Again, this is emergency funding. I can tell you that in my district there are several centers that have closed or are close to closing and we have all this money still unspent from going on a year now. How do we improve this process for this new allocation of funding from the federal government?”

Poole said the Office of Child and Family Services has learned a lot from the past year and will use technology more to its advantage than the department did last year. Many times, she said, the department tried to allow documentation in many different forms, which slowed the disbursement process.

“We’ve learned we’ve got to keep it simpler,” Poole said. “We’ve got to have a much more robust IT system. Part of the challenge in CARES 2, just to stop there for a moment, as frustrating as it’s been, we recognized many of these providers are home-based providers. They’re not sophisticated not-for-profits. We were trying to be very accommodating in allowing them to submit their budgets and documents and receipts in a handwritten format, trying to think it was a way for it to be easier. It wound up to be not quite the case.”

Before ending his time with Poole, Borrello made a final suggestion.

“If we make this as easy as we’ve made it for people to collect unemployment, I think we could get a lot of money into child care centers right away,” Borrello said.

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