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Idaho Providers Get Loud to Reverse Child Care ARPA Funding Cuts

In January, 2023, Idaho child care providers knew that time was running out. The federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) child care stabilization payments they had relied on were going to expire in September. They were bracing for the end of the monthly operational grants and wage support for their teachers that was keeping the industry afloat.

Then the timing abruptly changed. 

In February, Idaho’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted to strip away $36 million in ARPA funds and another $43 million in additional federal dollars.  Instead of September, the relief funding would end as soon as March. 

The reaction? 

“Panic,” Emily Allen, a policy associate, at Idaho Voices for Children says.

For Mary Clements, owner of Lakewood Montessori in Boise, the sudden cut was a sharp blow. Clements was using the funding to stabilize salaries, paying full time staff an additional $300 a month. The cut meant that she would have to raise tuition suddenly by seven to 10 percent, a burden for families that still might not be enough to cover costs.

“We got angry,” Clements says, recalling how she and her colleague took news of the cuts, “and then we got to work.” Clements contacted members of the media and put them in touch with parents and providers who could talk about how much the child care cuts would hurt families.  

“I started getting calls right away from child care providers who said, ‘What are we going to do? We’re counting on these dollars for another three months,’” Allen says. “So we needed to take immediate action.”

Idaho Voices for Children has relationships with parents and providers across the state, and they were now calling to know what they could do. Some wanted to go on strike. Some wanted to stay open but show their solidarity by wearing a particular color. Some wanted support in activating the parent of the children in their centers. So Idaho Voices for Children worked with them to channel all these ideas into statewide action.

March 8th was the day of action. Providers in Pocatello, Idaho, held a rally. Protesters gathered at the Bonneville County Courthouse in Idaho Falls. There was also a demonstration on the steps of the State Capitol in Boise, where Clements chose to close her program so her staff could attend.

“We felt that to honor the professionals in our field, we had to close,” Clements explains. “I was surprised that there was also so much parent support. No one complained. Everyone was on our team. We had parents join us at the Capitol.”

News stories broke. And thousands of requests poured into voicemails and inboxes of key Legislators asking for the child care stabilization funds to be restored. Then, less than two weeks later, the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee reversed course, approving  $28 million in federal child care grants.

It’s a short term victory. Stabilization funding was always going to end, sending the industry in Idaho back to its untenable pre-Covid state, but the Legislature made a promise to these providers to disperse relief funding through the end of the fiscal year and they were held to that commitment.

But child care is now on legislators’ radar, and providers have a taste of the power of advocacy. “This was my first real venture into advocacy,” Clements says. “We’ve only had one win, so I’m in no position to give any advice to anyone, but I will say that I have learned that I am willing to do more and that we can all do more.”

Allen of Idaho Voices for Children agrees. “This is a motivated industry right now. Child care providers are motivated to be involved in policymaking. They’re ready to go. They’re willing to support each other. They want to work together. They don’t want to work in silos.”

“And as advocates our job is to preserve those relationships and preserve that trust. We want everyone at the table. We’re not just looking for people who show up. We’re not looking for the loudest advocates. We’re looking for all people who are interested in this issue and want to be involved.”

That means creating more opportunities for the field to educate the public and engage with policymakers, so that, as Allen says, this work evolves into “a movement, and not just a moment.

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