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Maine child care providers brace for the end of expanded federal funding

Kevin Bennett
For Maine Public
Child care teacher Gina Thompson cares for three infants at Parkside Children's Learning Center in Bangor in 2019. The center cares for 115-130 children a day with a staff of 34-45 full- and part-time teachers.

Maine child care providers say that the end of some federal child care funds could make it harder for them to stay afloat.

At one point, the grants from the federal American Rescue Plan paid providers $100 per month for each spot in their center. But that funding has been gradually phased out, and it comes to an end completely on Saturday.

Heather Marden, the co-executive director of the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children, says the funding was crucial to help providers deal with increased costs due to inflation.

"Now we're starting to hear those things like, 'Gosh, I might have to cut providing food for my program, for families, because I can't afford to do that anymore. Or I might have to reduce my hours. Or I might have to raise tuition,'" she says. "We're starting to hear of closures and potential closures. This thin operational margin that childcare programs have historically worked on, is just getting harder and harder to maintain."

Earlier this year, the legislature passed a budget that expanded eligibility for child care subsidies and doubled monthly salary stipends to workers. But providers note the increased stipends likely won't go into effect for weeks.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services says it will continue to work with the legislature and other groups on new ideas to strengthen the state's child care system.

At its peak, nearly 1,300 Maine providers received federal stabilization grants, with payments averaging about $800-$1,700 per month.