Louisiana officials extend access to child care support for front line workers

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – The Louisiana Department of Education will provide subsidized child care to essential workers for an additional 30 days, officials said Tuesday.

A month ago, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the department expanded access to the Child Care Assistance Program, generally for low-income families, to “critical infrastructure workers” regardless of income. First responders and people who work in manufacturing or agriculture are among the types of workers included in the federal government’s definition of critical workers.

The licensed child care centers and the registered and certified family child care and in-home providers in Louisiana that remain open primarily are serving children of critical personnel, according to the state education department. To date, more than 3,700 critical personnel have applied for the CCAP for their children, the department says, and more than 3,800 of their children have been approved.

Meanwhile, 69 percent of Louisiana’s child care and early learning centers have closed since the pandemic began, officials say.

“If families can keep children at home, they are urged to do so,” said Assistant Superintendent Jessica Baghian, who oversees early childhood education. “But for those who are on the frontlines and who do not have this option, we must continue to ensure affordable access to child care. We must also support child care providers who, already operating on razor-thin financial margins, are experiencing serious, negative impacts as a result of COVID-19.”

Though lawmakers increased funding for early childhood care and education during the last legislative session, there were still 560 families on the waiting list to be admitted at the end of last year to the Child Care Assistance Program, which provides subsidized care to low-income families while the adults are working or attending school.

But as much of the state stays home in hopes of mitigating the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, more space has opened up at qualified centers. Gov. John Bel Edwards on Monday announced that he would extend his “stay at home” order, which would have expired after Thursday, for two more weeks.

Louisiana’s school campuses have been closed since mid-March. Child care centers have been allowed to stay open, though parents have been asked to care for their children at home if possible.

“Given the importance of reliable, quality child care to Louisiana working parents and the state economy, any post-COVID-19 economic recovery effort should take the condition of the child care industry itself into account,” the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children says.