Modified: September 3, 2020 1:19pm
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Deputy County Executive Maria R. Whyte today announced that Erie County will be designating a portion of its coronavirus relief funds, up to $25 million, from the U.S. CARES Act in a sweeping effort to support local parents, childcare providers, and school districts as the new school year gets underway. Working closely with partners in childcare and education, Erie County will allocate up to $4 million in CARES Act funding for direct support to childcare providers while also investing up to $10 million to replenish and expand the childcare subsidy to include families earning up to 85% of the NYS median income. Additionally, up to $11 million in funding will be allocated for the creation of new Virtual Learning Support Centers countywide in close partnership with Erie 1 and Erie 2 BOCES as well as school districts across Erie County. This grant funding will be available to applicants through December 30, 2020.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been the health crisis of our lifetime and has had ripple effects across all of our lives and our economy,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “As this crisis has continued to unroll across our community, we have been working with partners in numerous sectors to identify areas of need and facilitate ways to help our residents.”
Deputy County Executive Maria R. Whyte added, “Investing funding from the U.S. CARES Act for childcare in Erie County makes sense and provides support both to caregivers needing childcare solutions and to school districts struggling with the challenges of a new educational paradigm. With this funding we can provide immediate and direct relief to childcare providers and caregivers, easing some of their financial burdens and giving them more options. We are also collaborating with schools to further support them in their mission to provide our children with the best possible education, even in the time of COVID-19.”
Poloncarz and Whyte were joined at today’s announcement by Erie County Legislator Lisa Chimera (3rd District), a mother, educator and member of the Erie County Emergency Childcare Task Force (“Task Force”). The Task Force has been working with partners since March to address childcare challenges faced by caregivers, particularly working parents, during the coronavirus pandemic. With this multi-pronged initiative childcare providers across Erie County will have access to up to $4 million in direct financial support to address the loss of revenue they suffered during the pandemic while working families and caregivers will benefit from an expansion of the childcare subsidy to include families earning up to 85% of the NYS median income.
“As a working mother and an educator, I empathize with all of the parents struggling to balance work, school and childcare,” said Erie County Legislator Lisa Chimera. “I am grateful for Erie County’s investment of $25 million for continued childcare subsidies, childcare facilities, and for virtual learning resources across our County. I want to thank County Executive Poloncarz for working closely with the Childcare Task Force to develop solutions for working parents in our community.”
Also joining in the announcement was Dr. Will Keresztes, Ed.D., Chief of Intergovernmental Affairs, Planning and Community Engagement for the Buffalo Public Schools.
Cognizant of the challenges faced by working parents and caregivers as schools drew nearer to re-opening, the Task Force worked with Erie 1 BOCES and local school districts to develop plans for child care needs using input from a countywide survey conducted over recent weeks. 89% of the survey’s respondents indicated that they had a need for childcare when school resumes, with 54% indicating that they would need up to 4 days of childcare and 21% indicating a 5-day need for childcare. 75% of all respondents are in need of childcare for children ages 5-11. This amounts to at least 6,500 families in Erie County and likely many more who did not respond to the survey.
The survey also sought a clearer understanding of how many parents need help supervising their children on virtual learning days, days when children are not physically in the school space, in districts across Erie County. Results showed that the demand for virtual learning support significantly exceeds the capacity in the existing childcare system countywide. This initiative provides grant funding of up to $11 million to help districts and their partners creatively and rapidly increase the capacity and help meet the demand for virtual learning support for children and families.
“Throughout the COVID-19 school closure, the County Executive and his team have provided reliable support for all Erie County school districts,” said Dr. Will Kerestzes, Ed.D. “In Buffalo, we're especially appreciative of Deputy County Executive Maria Whyte and her creative leadership in addressing the child care challenge. This opportunity is coming with the right strategies at just the right time.”
Childcare was and remains the backbone of the entire workforce system. Without childcare many families, including families supported by teachers, are contemplating extensive leaves of absence from jobs. Childcare has also been an important topic for the Erie County Business Assistance Task Force, with many employers worried about their workforce reporting to work while schools are engaged in virtual learning models. Leaving school-aged children home alone to take charge of their own education (and in some cases the education of their younger siblings) while their parents work and try to financially support their families is simply not a sustainable option.
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