Mills Administration Delivers More Than $100 Million for Child Care During Pandemic; Announces Grants to Incentivize Recreational Programs to Become Licensed Child Care Facilities

The Mills Administration announced today that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has provided more than $100 million in Federal funding for child care during the pandemic, a milestone that represents more than three times the funding provided before COVID-19. As a result of these investments, child care providers have been able to maintain, and even build, capacity despite the pandemic – from 47,819 licensed slots in February 2020 to 48,940 licensed slots in June 2022.

Additionally, the Administration announced today that it will provide $10,000 in one-time grants to incentivize recreational programs across Maine to become licensed child care facilities, allowing them to participate in the child care subsidy program and expand the availability of child care options for Maine families.

“Parents need a safe, healthy place to send their kids during the day so they can go to work, bring home a paycheck, and strengthen our economy. To put it plainly: Maine’s current and future workforce depends on accessible, affordable child care,” said Governor Janet Mills. “Our work distributing Federal funding helped us maintain child care, despite the significant hardships of the pandemic, but now we are looking forward because we know there is a lot more work to be done. Offering one-time grants to rec programs across Maine is our next step, helping them enroll in our child care subsidy program and expand affordable child care options for hard working families and their children.”

“Access to affordable, high-quality child care is one of the most important ways we’ve supported Maine’s working families throughout the pandemic,” said Jeanne Lambrew, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and Todd Landry, Director of the Office of Child and Family Services. “The Governor’s historic investments in child care help providers to attract and retain staff, maintain and expand capacity, and provide quality care to Maine children. We look forward to continuing this support as part of our broader plan to chart a sustainable recovery and brighter future for Maine’s child care system.”

The Department’s Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) has delivered the bulk of the support – more than $60 million – through grants directly to child care providers to offset pandemic-related expenses, provide stipends to staff working with children, and support the expansion of child care capacity in Maine.

In 2020, Maine became one of the first states to begin distributing federal pandemic-related support to child care providers. Maine was also one of the first states to release federal American Rescue Plan funds, with more than 1,500 child care providers receiving the stabilization grants since October 2021. More than 95 percent of eligible licensed providers now receive these monthly grants. The Department has also distributed several rounds of federal funds to reimburse providers for COVID-19-related business costs.

The Department’s investments also support Maine families by improving their access to affordable child care,including helping low-income parents who receive subsidies by waiving their contribution to child care fees. This has saved families up to $180 per week and currently supports more than 4,600 children. OCFS also temporarily expanded financial eligibility for child care subsidies during the summer season to assist Maine’s tourism workforce.

“The federal COVID relief funding distributed by the State to the child care sector has been a lifeline to keep YMCA programs open and able to serve Maine families during an incredibly challenging couple of years,” said Meg Helming, Director of Advocacy and Impact at the YMCA Alliance of Northern New England. “Access to consistent and safe child care is a critical component of a strong economy, and the investments in the child care workforce and program operations ensured that the YMCAs could offer this essential service to working parents despite the myriad challenges presented by the pandemic. We look forward to continued partnership with the State to strengthen the child care sector to ensure that all Maine families have access to the care they need to support their careers and their children’s development.”

“Thanks to the strong leadership of Governor Mills, the Administration prioritized the use of federal funds to stabilize the child care sector in our state during the pandemic,” said Stephanie Eglinton, Executive Director of the Maine Children’s Alliance. “Millions of dollars went out the door quickly and efficiently to support early childhood educators so they could keep their doors open. Parents are struggling to do it all – work, take care of their children, and simply make ends meet. The Governor’s decision to waive parent fees for those participating in the child care subsidy program is a much-needed support for working families.”

Governor Mills is also investing $15 million through her Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, approved by the Legislature, to help renovate, expand, or build new child care facilities.

These funds, which will begin to be distributed in the coming weeks, are part of the first-ever Child Care Plan for Maine (PDF). The Plan charts how OCFS is helping Maine’s child care system recover and improving child care quality, accessibility, and affordability over the long-term.

Additionally, Governor Mills  in her supplemental budget, signed into law in April, State funding for $200 monthly stipends for more than 7,000 child care workers, continuing stipends that OCFS began providing last year using federal relief funds as part of a larger effort to attract and retain people to work in this valuable profession.

The state also maintains the Child Care Choices website, which allows families to locate and connect with providers in their area.