Child-care service grant program untapped, unwise: critics

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An $18-million provincial program aimed at enabling child-care professionals to start home-based programs has only doled out $45,000 since March, a freedom of information request by the Opposition NDP has revealed.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/06/2020 (912 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

An $18-million provincial program aimed at enabling child-care professionals to start home-based programs has only doled out $45,000 since March, a freedom of information request by the Opposition NDP has revealed.

The temporary child-care service grant, established March 20 in partnership with the Winnipeg and Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, was created with the intention of expanding services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of May 26, 15 centres had successfully applied for the one-time, $3,000 grants, establishing 111 new spots in home-based centres. However, the uptake by child-care providers has been minimal compared with its budget commitment, critics say.

“Instead of investing $18 million in our publicly-run centres,” NDP child care critic Danielle Adams said Thursday in a release, “(Tory Premier Brian Pallister) has implemented a failed program that doesn’t actually help parents.”

In response, Heather Stefanson, Manitoba minister of families, defended the program, saying in an emailed statement the province had created “over half the number” of home-based spots it had established in the last two years.

In recent months, some industry stakeholders had questioned whether the money allocated to start home-based programs would have been better used to support existing programs (with equipment, facilities, and trained staff), which were struggling financially due to pandemic restrictions.

Health and safety concerns were also voiced over whether many child-care professionals would feel comfortable starting a service out of their homes during a pandemic.

In an open letter sent April 8, the Manitoba Child Care Association urged the province to consider redistributing the temporary grant funds toward existing centres.

Association director Jodie Kehl said Thursday those centres have incurred additional operating costs during the pandemic, and the home-based centres which have opened have likely had to spend more on startup costs than normal.

While the province’s continuation of its existing operating grants to centres that remain open and federal subsidies have been helpful, she said programs are still losing money. With that considered, Kehl hoped the province would consider shifting gears.

“There are existing licensed programs that have been open since March 20, so it seems illogical to be expanding the system while existing spaces are still available,” she said.

In her statement Thursday, Stefanson said there are currently 764 child-care centres open in the province, with 11,206 spaces — of those, 2,636 remain vacant.

She touted her government’s investments in child care since the pandemic began, which she said total nearly $50 million.

— with files from Carol Sanders

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
Reporter

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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