FILE - Kindergarten, child care

(The Center Square) – The South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) has instituted a program to help essential workers and their families pay for  child care.

"As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, South Carolina received child care funding to assist parents and child care providers," Marilyn Matheus, the director of public information and media relations for DSS, said to The Center Square. "One of the actions DSS took immediately upon receiving these funds was to open the SC Voucher program to provide child care assistance to workers deemed essential during the COVID-19 response, without regard to the regular income eligibility requirements."

Matheus said the purpose of this temporary program is to help essential workers pay for child care while they report to work during the COVID-19 emergency.

"For the purposes of this child care assistance program, the term 'essential services' or 'essential staff' is not a matter of which businesses are allowed to remain open or not," Matheus said. "This assistance is for workers who are essential with respect to the actual COVID-19 emergency and response."

In other words, Matheus said, those engaged in providing essential services such as health care workers, first responders, commercial transport and critical state government operations; individuals involved in making sure the public has access to critical services, such as food, water, gas, utilities, sanitation, medical and child care; and critical infrastructure operations such as communications, child care, national guard mobilization and transportation.

The benefits will last through Aug. 30, Matheus said.

"Payments are made directly to child care providers," Matheus said. "Maximum weekly payments vary by categories of care – centers, family child care homes, et cetera – urban or rural settings, ages of children served, and quality level of the child care provider."

Matheus said providers that are in the ABC Quality program already have an established weekly rate based on their quality level. She said providers not enrolled in ABC Quality will be paid at a Level C rate.

"DSS is not charging a co-pay per child, however, parents may be asked to pay for the difference between what the child care provider charges and the voucher rate," Matheus said.

Matheus said the program is important.

"DSS is pleased to facilitate the allocation of such an important resource for parents to ensure their children are safe and cared for while they have continued working to serve South Carolinians throughout the response to the COVID-19 pandemic," Matheus said.