State dedicates $17.8M to incentivize licensed day cares

State dedicates $17.8M to incentivize licensed day cares

By MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama Department of Human Resources will use $17.8 million from the 2023 education budget to incentivize licensed day cares in the state.

The department will award the funds based on its five-star quality rating system and hopes the money will help more families across the state have access to quality child care.

Lack of quality, affordable child care is one of the number one reasons people stay on the sidelines, out of work,” Gina Maiola, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kay Ivey, said in a statement on Thursday. “Gov. Ivey is committed to not only investing in our children, but paving the way for every Alabamian who wants a job, to get one.”

The state’s unemployment rate in February was 3% as industries across the state compete for workers.

The advocacy group VOICES for Alabama’s Children praised the expenditure this month. According to its most recent Kids County Data Book, the percentage of employed mothers with children under the age of 6 dropped from 63.5% prior to the pandemic to 56.6% in 2021.

It also reported that in April of 2021, there were 2,324 child care facilities in Alabama and 1,855 of those were licensed by the state. Faith-based organizations are allowed to apply for a license exemption.

“This is really the first state investment in these licensed programs,” Voices CEO Collier Tynes said.

She said that facilities are still recovering from the pandemic as well, when many were forced to temporarily or permanently shut down. 

Child care costs have also been a barrier for some families. A 2021 survey by the Office of Child Care Subsidy, within ADHR, found that the average weekly rate for full-time child care was between $131 and $141, depending on the child’s age. Low-income families can receive federal and state subsidies to assist with this cost.

The latest Data Book said 24% of Alabama children are living in poverty. 

“We’ve got to keep our child care facilities  available, affordable, accessible and equitable,” Tynes said.