FILE - VA Gov. Ralph Northam

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (VCU CNS | Flickr via Creative Commons)

(The Center Square) – Additional childcare subsidies provided during the COVID-19 pandemic will be extended until the end of 2021, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday.

The state program, which provides financial assistance for childcare services, temporarily loosened the eligibility requirements through July 31, 2021. Northam directed the Virginia Department of Education to continue covering copayments through December 31, using federal COVID-19 relief funds.

“Access to high-quality child care is not only critical to the health and safety of Virginia’s children, but it is also important for advancing a strong, equitable recovery,” Northam said in a statement. “Extending these resources through the end of 2021 will help close the affordability gap for parents and providers, allowing thousands of Virginians to return to work, support their families, and grow our economy.”

The state’s Child Care Subsidy Program provides financial assistance to eligible families who have at least one child less than 5 years old who are not yet enrolled in kindergarten. The expanded eligibility allows families up to 85% of the median income to receive assistance, which nearly doubled the threshold for eligibility. Families that receive the assistance remain eligible for 12 months or until their income is higher than the new threshold, whichever comes first.

“Every child in Virginia is capable of success in school and beyond if they have access to the right resources,” House Speaker Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said in a statement. “I know, as a mom myself, that parents want what is best for their children. By reducing barriers to quality child care, this extension will be of great help to working families.”

Lawmakers initially expanded eligibility through legislation signed by the governor earlier this year. The General Assembly provided more than $62 million to expand access, which more than 1,000 families have taken advantage of. The governor’s office did not say how much it will cost the state to continue copayments through December.

“School readiness begins years before the first day of kindergarten,” Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. James Lane, said in a statement. “We are dedicated to improving the subsidy program experience for parents and providers alike as we simultaneously increase access.”

July 2021 will be recognized as Child Care Access Month of Action. First Lady Pamela Northam is visiting early childhood care and education programs throughout Wednesday to raise awareness for available resources. The Virginia Early Childhood Foundation held a webinar for child care providers, advocates and other workers on how to direct families to these resources on Wednesday.

“Our team has visited programs in every region of the Commonwealth this year and the benefits of in-person instruction for our littlest learners are clear,” the First Lady said in a statement. “Virginia’s early educators are truly superheroes, and we want to ensure all families have access to these vital programs.”

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.