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ORR discusses its $20 million investment in access to childcare

SNOHOMISH Co., Wash., January 23, 2023The Economic Alliance Snohomish County met with representatives for the Office of Recovery and Resiliency (ORR) on January 17 to discuss the allocation of $20 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that will increase access to affordable childcare in Snohomish County. 

Snohomish County Executive Somers and the county council established the Office of Recovery and Resilience in the Summer of 2021 to oversee the County’s $160 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation. 

The ARPA funds are, at their core, intended to help the community recovery from the pandemic, replace lost revenues from government and support publics services, supporting the economic supporting the economic stabilization of households and businesses, and addressing some systemic social and economic challenges, Chrissie Grover-Roybal, Deputy Director for the Office of Recovery and Resilience, explained. The county has an extremely quick timeline to spend these funds, having until the end of 2024 to contract out the money and the end of 2026 to completely spend it. 

Snohomish County childcare
Screen snapshot from The Economic Alliance Snohomish County‘s coffee chat discussion on childcare.

Out of the $160 million in ARPA funds allocated to the county, $20 million has been set aside to support and address childcare in the county.

The county took a huge hit to its childcare workforce since the beginning of the pandemic, having lost an estimated 20% of its workers since 2020. Approximately $7.8 million will go toward the initial investments for school-aged childcare and mental health supports, early childhood education and assistance programs (ECAP), and childcare vouchers in Snohomish County. The remaining $12 million will go toward Start-Up and Expansion Grants, workforce development and retention, community-led recruitment and mentorship, and continued ECAP stabilization. 

“We know that a reduced access to childcare not only means additional challenges for families but additional challenges for individuals and families trying to enter the workforce,” said Grover-Roybal last Tuesday

ORR is in the process of finalizing implementation details for these projects—co-designed with community members, providers, County departments, and experts—and expects to carry out this work through the second quarter of 2023. 

“A stable workforce relies on families that have stable childcare and quality childcare,” said Karen Matson, Developmental Disabilities and Early Learning Division Manager for the County’s Human Services Department

Matson added that the county was struggling with the childcare system before COVID but the pandemic only “made things more challenging.” The families who struggled the most, she said, were those beneath the poverty line; the ORR hopes to prioritize these families with their childcare voucher system which has already begun moving out the door. 

The Snohomish County Boys and Girls Club, which celebrates its 77th anniversary in the county this year, has teamed up with the ORR on its initiative to increase access for underprivileged families where more than half of the youths they serve are of color and more than half take advantage of free or reduced lunches.

“This really makes us a perfect partner for this initiative”, said Marci Volmer, Chief Operating Officer for the Snohomish County Boys and Girls Club

As children return from the pandemic their emotional safety and security is also a key focus of the Boys and Girls Club (BGC), which plans to utilize ARPA funds to expand its mental health and behavioral health services including, but not limited to, becoming a trauma informed organization. One of the biggest achievements for the Club recently, as it relates to behavioral support, is onboarding five Behavioral Support Specialists who directly work with families and staff to enhance mental health wellness and social-emotional learning.

“We’re working on hiring more so we continue to have that support in each club,” said Shaila Khan, Director of Child and Club Safety for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Snohomish County. “They’re also providing any family resources that are needed, if it’s something the Boys and Girls Club can’t provide.”

In addition to the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA was also a recipient of the ARPA funds earmarked for childcare services.

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