FILE - Child care day care

(The Center Square) – Virginia will be investing another $203.6 million of federal money into child care services, Gov. Ralph Northam announced.

The funding, which comes from the December 2020 federal COVID-19 stimulus bill, will help fund the expansion of eligibility criteria for the Child Care Subsidy Program and bolster the state’s early childhood care and education system. It will ensure that more families are covered by the state’s child care assistance programs as people come back into the workforce and provide new and returning child care providers with operational and technical resources.

“Early educators have been diligent and dedicated to keeping children safe and meeting the needs of our youngest Virginians since the early days of this public health crisis,” Northam said in a statement. “As we emerge from the pandemic, the strength of our recovery will depend upon our ability to help families return to the workforce and provide quality, affordable options for early childhood care and education. These additional investments will help address the challenges child care providers are facing and ensure we can continue to deliver critical resources to those most in need now and into the future.”

Under House Bill 2206, which passed the General Assembly and was signed by Northam, eligibility for the subsidy program will temporarily expand to include more families with young children. A family with a child less than 5 years old or not yet in kindergarten will be eligible if the household makes 85% of the state’s median income or less. Child care centers and family day homes that receive funding through the subsidy program will also be eligible for up to $2,000 to strengthen quality and reduce turnover.

Federal funding also allows the commonwealth to waive copayments in April, May and June and increase the number of absence days. It will fund mental health programs, child stabilization grants and grants for children in unserved communities.

“We know that access to quality early childhood care and education has been a concern for many working families, even before the pandemic,” S. Duke Storen, the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Social Services, said in a statement.

“Over the past year, enrollment in our Child Care Subsidy Program has declined by 32 percent, further demonstrating the financial burden families have continued to experience amidst the economic downturn caused by COVID-19,” Storen said. “As Virginians return to school and work, we must not only ensure the available supply of child care to meet the increased demand, but also continue to make investments to maintain a strong child care system.”

The state’s updated eligibility guidelines can be viewed on the Department of Social Service’s website.

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.