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State accepting grant applications for federal child-care aid

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YMCA of Helena distance learning child care

School-age children and YMCA of Helena staff wait for parents to arrive at the organization's new distance learning child care program at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds in September 2020.

The state health department Thursday said it was opening grant applications for $31 million in federal money to help child-care providers during the pandemic.

The money is from the federal America Rescue Plan Act. The Legislature earlier this year created commissions to recommend how the aid will be spent, with Gov. Greg Gianforte having final say over those decisions.

The $31 million was approved in late June. The money can be used for things like paying rent or mortgages, payroll and benefits, improving the health and safety at facilities, facility maintenance or minor improvements, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies and other items such as diapers.

The grants can also be used for mental health support for children and providers.

Registered and licensed child-care providers are eligible, including child care centers, family and group child care providers. There were 916 licensed or registered providers in Montana at the start of June, according to a report from the state health department. Through the pandemic, 171 providers closed and of those 21 have re-opened. 

A recent report shows there's only enough licensed or registered providers to meet the need of 27% of children under the age of 6.

“Access to child care is an essential piece to the state’s workforce and plays a critical role in supporting Montana’s hardworking families, our economy, and our businesses,” department Director Adam Meier said in a press release Thursday. “This funding will help address immediate challenges currently facing the child care industry due to COVID-19, and help resolve this longstanding challenge by building up child care capacity going forward.”

People can call 844-406-2772 with questions or to get help applying. There's also more information at

Tracking by the state shows less than 10% of ARPA money has been spent so far. The Gianforte administration has defended that number, saying it takes state agencies time to create programs and open grant applications, while Democrats in the Legislature have argued the state is in the midst of crisis like a lack of childcare keeping people out of the workforce and aid needs to be pushed out rapidly.


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