Early Matters coalition hopes to provide financial relief for Chattanooga child care providers amid coronavirus

Article by Meghan Mangrum appeared on Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 10th, 2020

The Early Matters Chattanooga coalition, an offshoot of Chattanooga 2.0, hopes to support child care providers struggling while businesses are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Recent shelter-in-place orders have left the majority of child care and early learning programs in the area closed. The ones that are open are caring for the children of essential workers and dealing with the added stress of lower enrollment numbers, loss of revenue and keeping staff and students safe during the public health crisis.

The Early Matters coalition launched the Emergency Child Care Provider Bridge Fund to provide grants to child care programs with 50 or fewer employees to help them stay in business until they receive state or federal dollars.

The grants range from $3,000 to $8,000, depending on program size, and can be used to cover operational and/or payroll costs. The $260,000 fund was re-purposed from the Quality Matters fund, which launched in February to help fund one-time capital investments for programs, and falls under the umbrella of the Smart City Venture Fund.

“It was already difficult for programs to find and keep qualified child care staff,” reads a statement from Silvia Ramos, senior director of education initiatives at United Way Chattanooga and member of the Early Matters coalition. “The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) says 50% of child care programs nationwide will close permanently due to COVID-19. We want to try and prevent the devastation that would cause for our community.”

Local child care providers like Cynthia Evans, executive director of Champion Christian Learning Academy, and Kathryn Gladden of Tweety’s Child Care Home have grappled with whether to close since schools and businesses first started shutting their doors last month.

Mayor Andy Berke’s executive order on April 2 made that decision easier by ordering all programs to close unless they are caring for essential workers’ children.

The Tennessee Department of Human Services has promised to support child care programs that enroll children who participate in the state’s voucher program through the end of April but hasn’t released further guidance yet. Some programs are still charging non-voucher families to keep their seats for when the centers re-open in order to stay afloat and keep paying employees.

“The harsh reality is that many child care programs are closing their doors, laying off staff, and may not be able to reopen when this is all over,” reads a statement from Ariel Ford, director of the city of Chattanooga’s Office of Early Learning and a coalition member. “If we can help provide bridge funds to help keep their staff paid, we have a responsibility to do that for the children and families in our community.”

Coalition members and the city’s early learning staff can also help providers access other local, state and federal options and will host a webinar on Tuesday, April 14, for applicants.

The Early Matters coalition is one of the longest-standing committees formed through Chattanooga 2.0, the hallmark education initiative launched in 2015 to unite local nonprofit, business and community leaders to improve education outcomes in Hamilton County.

The coalition is behind the Chattanooga Basics program, a hospital visitation program and Camp K, a kindergarten readiness summer camp. It is made up of child care providers, educators and other community leaders.

For more information, visit earlymatterschatt.org or contact earlymatterschatt@gmail.com.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

Original article: https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2020/apr/10/early-matters-coalitihopes-provide-financial/520393/