Blair Miller

(Daily Montanan) As lawmakers take a deeper look during the interim at how to hire and retain childcare workers in Montana and keep providers operational, the Gianforte administration announced $3 million in federal funds are available for workers in the industry who have to pay for childcare of their own.

The Governor’s Office and Department of Public Health and Human Services announced Monday that the Child Care Worker Child Care Scholarship Program grant money would be available for workers at licensed, registered childcare facilities who meet certain requirements.

If the Montana childcare worker works directly with children and works at least 60 hours a month at the facility, has a child under age 12 that attends a licensed and registered care facility, and has a family income at or below 250% of the Federal Poverty Level – about $75,000 for a family of four – they would be eligible for assistance.

According to the state, those workers who are eligible will have childcare copays capped at $100 a month and would be eligible for the program for 12 months. Providers would be paid if the child attends the care facility at least one day a month.

“Montana’s child care providers support our hard working families,” Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a statement. “We look forward to making this funding available to ensure providers who care for our children, while raising their own, continue this important service in our communities.”

The funding is part of a $24 million package the state will receive from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over the next five years to fund the Montana Bright Futures project, aimed at boosting the childcare workforce industry and providing better care statewide.

fact sheet from the Governor’s Office and DPHHS said the window for applicants opened on Sept. 15 and can be submitted through the local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency. DPHHS didn’t immediately respond late Monday to the reason the opportunity was announced this week.

DPHHS spokesperson Jon Ebelt said the applications are considered on a first-come, first-served basis and that as of Nov. 16, there were 16 Montana childcare workers receiving the funding.

There is no deadline for people to apply, and DPHHS estimates there are at least 300 childcare workers in Montana who could be eligible.

Legislative interim committees are taking deep looks into how to raise wages for childcare workers, keep providers from falling off the cliff once federal pandemic programs expire, and to lower the increasing cost of childcare, which have all been described by professionals and the state as barriers to increasing labor force participation among parents of younger children and retaining childcare workers.

“In Montana, 10% of families note having to quit a job, not taking a job, or changing a job because of child care,” DPHHS Director Charlie Brereton said in a statement. “This funding will allow parents to remain working in our child care system and increase retention for employers.”