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Pandemic relief to help healthcare workers with childcare

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HELENA – Montana is using $5.5 million in pandemic relief money to help healthcare workers pay for licensed childcare over the next year, the health department and the governor announced Monday.

Funds will be available for parents and guardians who work in healthcare, behavioral health, disability services and long-term care settings, including assisted living and home health.

“Over the last 20 months, Montana healthcare workers have made tremendous sacrifices as they’ve treated and cared for Montanans,” Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a statement. “Many are moms and dads who, like all Montanans, have faced a long-standing child care shortage, only made worse by the pandemic. This program will give hundreds of Montana families peace of mind.”

A 2019 report by the Department of Labor found that licensed childcare providers in Montana met less than half the estimated demand.

Last month, the health department announced that $31 million in federal pandemic relief funding was available to help increase licensed childcare capacity. The money could be used to pay rent, utilities, wages, maintenance and personal protective equipment along with diapers and other care materials.

Under the $5.5 million program, families must pay up to $100 per month as a copayment and officials estimate the program will cover care costs for about 600 children. The children must be under age 12 to qualify, parents must comply with child support if there is an absent parent and the childcare facility must be licensed, officials said.

Applications for the childcare assistance began being accepted on Nov. 19. The state notified licensed childcare providers about the program earlier, Jon Ebelt, spokesperson for the Department of Public Health and Human Services, said Monday.

Families with a household income of between 185 percent and 250 percent of the federal poverty level will be prioritized for the program, as will people whose work in facilities is reliant on Medicaid funding. For a family of four, the annual income range for eligibility would be from about $49,000 to $66,250.

Families can receive help with the application process by contacting a regional Child Care Resource and Referral Agency, said Adam Meier, director of the health department.

“We urge Montana providers and businesses to encourage all potential eligible employees to apply,” Meier said in a statement.

A separate federal program called the Best Beginnings Child Care Scholarship Program helps pay for childcare for families whose income is at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

The childcare funding was recommended by the Health Advisory Commission, which makes suggestions to the governor for how to allocate some of Montana’s share of federal pandemic relief funding.

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