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State offering $66 million in aid to Nebraska child care operators, workers

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The Greater Omaha Packing Co. beef plant in South Omaha will expand its capacity by nearly 30% and add 275 jobs thanks to a $19.9 million grant from the USDA.

Child care workers and providers in Nebraska will be able to apply for financial aid through a $66 million program the State of Nebraska will kick off next month.

The money is from federal COVID-19 relief aid.

The intent is “to recognize and reward child care workers, repay student loan debt, and expand access to quality child care services,” according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

DHHS will be holding virtual information sessions for potential applicants this month and start accepting applications on Dec. 5.

Jeff Powell, department spokesman, said the pandemic exacerbated a child care workforce shortage that started before COVID-19 struck.

“That caused an issue for parents ... and forced them to make tough decisions, such as one parent leaving the workforce,” he said. “These funds that we received from the federal government are to try and help that situation.”

The program will include workforce stipends for current licensed child care providers and staff, and student loan repayment grants for child care providers.

The amounts of the stipends and grants were not available.

As a result of the pandemic, Nebraska’s early childhood providers have experienced income reductions, rampant staff turnover, difficulty hiring staff and an inability to offer sufficient pay, according to a May report from the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. As a result, many child care providers have been struggling mentally, physically and financially, the institute said. The report was based on a survey of more than 750 providers.

Of the providers who employ staff, 9 in 10 respondents reported difficultly filling open positions, citing a lack of applicants and inability to offer sufficient pay. The average hourly wage for child care workers in Nebraska is $12.31.

Two-thirds of child care providers who employ staff experienced turnover, with 69% reporting that workers were leaving the early childhood field entirely.

“The lack of quality child care options nationwide has been a continuing barrier forcing families to make difficult decisions such as leaving the workforce,” said Stephanie Beasley, director of the department’s division of children and family services.

“This investment into Nebraska’s critical workforce will help boost child care options for working families and support professionals doing this important work.” The department will hold several virtual information sessions in English and Spanish to share eligibility requirements, instructions on how to apply and other information. The sessions will take place Monday through Thursday. People can sign up for a session at dhhs.ne.gov/ccdf.

The funding is a part of the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077

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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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