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The Manitoba government has earmarked $10 million in pandemic-related staffing support for child care, child welfare and disability services.

The Pandemic Staffing Support Benefit will be available to help organizations meet staffing challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including overtime costs, hiring replacement staff or paying for sick time.

Funds could also support ongoing staffing costs if public health officials order an early learning and child care facility or a specific cohort to close for a short-term isolation period in response to a case of COVID-19.

As the coronavirus has spread through the province, there has been a significant spike in cases among staff that serve children and Manitobans with disabilities, Families Minister Heather Stefanson said.

There are currently 25 agencies funded through the province's community living disabilities service programs with active COVID-19 cases. This includes 34 program participants and 67 staff who are positive with the virus, Stefanson told a news conference Wednesday.

"This rate of spread in our disability services sector is creating staffing challenges for many of our agencies," she said.

The $10-million program is in place until March, but could be extended beyond that date, Stefanson said.

Application forms for the financial support are already available online.

Non-profit Community Living disABILITY Services residential home providers, child and family services group home providers and child care centres are able to apply for the benefit.

If needed, the first instalment will be provided up front, with subsequent payments based on an assessment of ongoing needs.

Based on provincial projections and the number of the front-line staff in each sector, about $6 million will be allocated to the disability sector, $3 million to child care, and $1 million to Child and Family Services agencies.

Rosalie Best, accessibility services co-ordinator with Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities, welcomed the additional support.

"It’s about time. It’s been a very frustrating long haul through all of the COVID (period), pretty much since the beginning of March," she said. "We’ve had a lot of members call and let us know that they need more funds, they need more support."

Jodie Kehl, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, called the announcement positive news.

"Child care facilities are feeling the strain of staffing challenges like many other sectors right now," she said.

What isn't clear is whether child care centres will be able to find staff to fill in for workers who are ill or self-isolating due to COVID-19, Kehl said.

There was already a shortage of early childhood educators and child care assistants in the province prior to the pandemic.

"Clearly, over the course of the last eight months, that challenge has only been amplified," she said.

Kehl noted the association regularly has upwards of 40-plus job postings on its website.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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