State Rep. Kiger: DHS Decisons are Closing Daycares

Mike Seals - May 26, 2020 11:41 am

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Lundy Kiger, R-Poteau, today accused Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) Director Justin Brown of failing to communicate with Oklahoma daycare owners.

“Director Brown has claimed to me personally how great his organization communicates with daycare businesses,” Kiger said, “but to date, I’m not seeing it, and I have two examples to prove my points.”

Kiger said he posed questions to Brown related to the $50 million DHS received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and how the department decided to spend the money by giving it directly to parents and bypassing daycare businesses that are struggling, with over 850 closing since the first of the year.

“Then, in another move by DHS, the decision was made to make all family members, including step-brothers and sisters, eligible to become daycare businesses and get paid to keep the kids of relatives, many of whom we now have learned were attending a licensed daycare,” Kiger said.

“From what I see in the actions by Director Brown, I’m not sure if he really understands the importance and need for daycares in our state, or if licensed daycares are really a high priority for him,” Kiger said.

He said the most disturbing issues comes from one of the largest daycare associations, made up of licensed daycare owners from all over the state. He said licensed owners in his district have tried to communicate with Director Brown by email, and for weeks they received no reply back and no confirmation that was requested to confirm the email was received by DHS.

Kiger said since Director Brown hasn’t responded, he’s issuing a public list of concerns.

DHS received approximately $50 million from the CARES Act that clearly shows in the funding parameters that the state is to be the first option for using the money. Funds may be used to provide continued payments and assistance to childcare providers in the case of decreased enrollment or closures related to the Coronavirus, and to assure that daycares are able to remain open or to reopen, he said.

There are approximately 38 states providing some type of funding from the CARES Act directly to daycares because they understand if daycares close down there won’t be enough businesses open to take the kids whose parents will be going back to work, he said.

Also, DHS is eligible to use approximately 30% of the $50 million for administrative services. He asked how much of this 30% DHS will keep.

Kiger said the Licensed Child Care Association of Oklahoma (LCCAOK) has spoken with childcare providers across the state to hear their concerns and issues with being able to remain open and to support Oklahoma’s economy.

LCCAOK also has researched what other states across the U.S. are doing in an effort to help support their child care providers.  LCCAOK desires to have a joint meeting with DHS, Oklahoma legislators and childcare providers across Oklahoma to determine the best appropriation of funds from the CARES Act to ensure providers can remain in business.

Upon research conducted by LCCAOK, Kiger said it has been discovered that other states are using Child Care & Development Block Grants (CCDBG) and money from the CARES Act specifically to support childcare programs.  Oklahoma’s current plan to give unemployed families 60 days of free child care will not help stabilize the childcare industry, he said, and this will cause hardships for providers farther down the road and risk instability to Oklahoma’s workforce and economy.

DHS has stated that the money for the fiscal year has already been allocated and there are no funds to pay enrollment vs. attendance, Kiger said. In response, LCCAOK has constructed a list of 10 items that can be accomplished with the 70% of CARES Act funds that are designated for childcare stability.

Kiger, LCCAOK and other legislators supportive of licensed daycare facilities are calling on DHS to appropriate funding to help providers in the following ways:

  1. Pay all licensed child care providers $25 per 1/2 licensed capacity per week for 16 weeks. This would be retroactive for the weeks of March 16, 2020, through July 3, 2020.  This will exclude Head Starts, tribal-only programs, summer programs, day camps and before- and after-school programs.  (This action is based upon support implemented in Virginia.)
  2. All licensed childcare providers will receive a one-time supply/cleaning stipend based upon licensed capacity.  Programs licensed for 25 children or less will receive a $750 stipend. Programs licensed for 26-100 children will receive a $1,500 stipend.  Programs licensed for 101 or more will receive a $3,000 stipend. This will exclude Head Starts, tribal-only programs, summer programs, day camps and before- and after-school programs. (This action is based upon support implemented in Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Kansas and New York.)
  3. Licensed childcare programs that remained open during this time will receive a one-time stipend based on licensed capacity for the additional operating costs and providing care to essential workers. Programs licensed for 25 children or less will receive a $750 stipend. Programs licensed for 26-100 children will receive a $1,500 stipend.  Programs licensed for 101 or more will receive a $3,000 stipend.  This will exclude programs that were not open during the pandemic, Head Starts, tribal-only programs, summer programs, day camps and before- and after-school programs. (This action is based upon support being offered by Louisiana, Massachusetts and Tennessee.)
  4. Licensed child care programs that remained open during this time will receive a one-time stipend of $500 per full-time employee to be issued to teachers as a hazard pay for working.  Full time employees include, but are not limited to family home providers, owners, directors, staff and any other employee who works at least 30 hours per week.  This will exclude programs that were not open during this pandemic, Head Starts, tribal-only programs, summer programs, day camps and before- and after-school programs. (This action is based upon support being offered by North Carolina.)
  5. Parent copays will be waived for the months of May and June. (This action is based upon support being offered by Florida, Hawaii, Montana, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.)
  6. Ensure that DHS will not use more than 30% of the money allocated by the CARES Act for administrative use. The remaining 70% of funds will be allocated directly to child care providers.
  7. DHS will undergo a voluntary audit of CCDBG and CARES Act funds.
  8. Due to the current situation, DHS will put on hold any plans to implement the Pyramid Model, QRIS 5-Star or any other new project for at least two years. In addition, there should be no increase of staffing towards these programs and currently employed staff for these projects should move to currently open positions or the position should be eliminated. No new positions will be created. This will ensure that no money from the CARES Act is used to fund additional agency programs.
  9. Due to the current situation, the required three yearly visits to programs shall include accreditation visits, CACFP reviews, tribal visits, fire inspections and health inspections.
  10. Due to the numerous licensed childcare providers who have openings for children, all unlicensed and “pop-up” programs will be prohibited beginning immediately.

The term “program” refers to any licensed childcare provider.  This includes family home programs and center programs. This also refers to providers who accept private pay and/or subsidy payments.

LCCAOK believes that there is adequate funding to implement these changes. This funding will come from the $50 million from the CARES Act. Additional funding should remain from the current fiscal year’s CCDBG funds due to the decreased amount of subsidy payments being made for the months of March, April and May.

LCCAOK requested a written response by DHS confirming its letter has been received by 11:00 a.m. May 6, 2020.  Additionally LCCAOK formally requested a response and action to its letter no later than 11:00 a.m. May 15, 2020. Of course both of these dates passed without response from Director Brown, Kiger said.

Again, LCCAOK formally requested a Zoom meeting with DHS, Oklahoma legislators and childcare provider organizations to discuss funding options that will not solely benefit unemployed families, but ALL families and childcare providers in Oklahoma as Oklahoma repairs its economy.

“A working childcare industry is critical for the economy to get back to previous levels,” Kiger said. “Our childcare providers make it possible for Oklahoman’s to work.”

 

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