FILE - Early childhood education preschool

(The Center Square) – The Louisiana Department of Education has expanded eligibility for a popular childcare assistance program for low-income families to workers deemed critical to the COVID-19 response.

“Critical infrastructure workers” according to federal guidelines include those in the fields of health care and public health, law enforcement and public safety, food and agriculture and many more. Their families can access subsidized care for children age 12 and under at participating childcare centers or through registered and certified family childcare and in-home providers.

Though lawmakers boosted funding for early childhood care and education during the last session, there were still at the end of last year 560 families on the waiting list to be admitted 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 hunkers down 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’ emergency proclamation closing schools did not apply to childcare and early learning centers, but parents have been asked to care for their children at home if they are able.

“As a result of families keeping children at home, providers are able to prioritize spots for critical service infrastructure personnel,” said Sydni Dunn with the Louisiana Department of Education. “We aim to accommodate as many families as possible, while adhering to the guidelines set forth by public health officials, including restrictions on group sizes. We will reassess at the close of the 30-day [emergency] period.”

Interested families must complete the application the department’s Pandemic Protective Services Crisis Application. If approved, initial certification will be valid for 30 days. If the public health crisis continues beyond 30 days, the LDOE will reassess applications, officials say.

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.