Similar to what happened in child care centers around the country, the pandemic also destabilized child care in many tribal communities. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, passed in December 2020, provided $10 billion in child care relief funding to states, territories, and tribes administered through the Child Care and Development Block Grant. This funding was intended to support working families and help child care providers stay in business during the pandemic with broad flexibility in how it could be spent. Of the $10 billion, $275 million (2.75% of the total CRRSA funds) was allocated to tribes. Note: This percentage is consistent with the CCDBG discretionary funding levels set aside for tribes by the Department of Health and Human Services in fiscal year 2021.
Tribal lead agencies were required to submit a report to HHS 60 days after the enactment of CRRSA outlining how they planned to spend their funds. HHS directed lead agencies to address five main categories: direct child care services (subsidies); virus mitigation policies and practices; grants to stabilize child care providers; assistance to providers not participating in the Child Care and Development Fund prior to the pandemic; and, other.
HHS also created guidelines for how funds can be spent within each category. Given the short turnaround, HHS allowed tribes to submit that they were seeking additional spending guidance or to submit a tentative or partial report by February 25 with a timeline for a finalized version. The $275 million was allocated to 265 of the 574 federally recognized tribes. The amount of funds allocated to each tribe was based on their reported child counts. CCDF regulations state that a tribe must have at least 50 children under the age of 13 to receive funding; otherwise they can join a consortium that represents multiple tribes that meet such requirements. As of April 23, BPC had access to 251 of the 265 tribal reports to HHS. This blog provides an analysis of the tribal reports for each of the categories issued by HHS.
About 230 tribes who submitted reports indicated they plan to spend at least some of their funds on subsidies or other direct child care services. The most commonly cited use of the funds was providing reduced or free tuition to frontline and essential workers through the pandemic, followed by copay relief for all parents. For providers, tribes plan to help pay for current employee salaries as well as fund new staff hires.
Of the 199 tribes who reported in this category, about 175 tribes indicated they will use funding to provide PPE to child care providers, including sanitation and cleaning supplies. Multiple tribes reported they will also distribute PPE directly to families. Many tribes indicated they will provide technical assistance and information to providers about state and local health and safety guidelines. Furthermore, some tribes will use funds to finance facility renovations to improve and upgrade sanitation conditions.
Of the 161 tribes who reported in this category, 55 said they will issue grants to assist providers with overall operating costs. Others indicated that they will distribute grants specifically for improving quality of care, including curriculum development or provider trainings. About 40 tribes said they will help providers support and retain their staff through bonuses, hazard pay, helping fund new hires, and/or increasing hourly wages. More than 20 tribes reported that they were awaiting additional guidance from HHS for spending in this category.
Thirty-two tribes stated they plan to expand the supply of child care by recruiting new providers and assisting them with startup costs. About 45 tribes will use the funds to provide resources to help existing providers remain open. About 45 tribes did not report spending plans in this category, and about 40 other tribes are awaiting further guidance from HHS.
Tribes reported other ways the funds can best serve their communities that did not fall under any of the other four specific buckets. Forty-seven tribes will use the funds for facility repairs, 29 for facility maintenance, and 24 to construct an entirely new facility. Twenty-six tribes reported planning to improve outdoor play spaces to promote social distancing and 14 tribes will upgrade technology and educational materials to allow for virtual and distance learning. To address specific needs of their communities, tribes will work with families to provide transportation to child care programs and integrate more culturally-informed care into existing programs.
The White Mountain Apache Tribe of Arizona, with about 13,500 tribal members and 1,700 children under the age of 5, plans to use CRRSA dollars to increase pay for all child care program employees and hire additional teaching staff to reduce staff to child ratios. They also plan to hire new staff members to: determine the unmet child care needs; develop emergency preparedness and disaster recovery plans; and improve health and safety standards. Along with staffing updates, the White Mountain Apache Tribe will help providers pay some of the expenses that allow them to maintain high-quality of care, including the cost of utilities, background checks, first aid and CPR classes, and fingerprint clearance cards. Finally, the tribe plans to purchase a washer and dryer, an ice box, a freezer, computers, and laptops.
The Pueblo de Cochiti, a small tribe in New Mexico with about 1,500 tribal members, shows how smaller tribes can use CRRSA funds to help keep child care centers open while adhering to increasingly strict health and safety standards. The Cochiti Pueblo has one tribal care center, called the Language Nest, which they will provide with PPE like hand soap, sanitizer, masks, gloves, paper towels, vacuum, mops, and a sanitization station. The tribe will provide families with materials to make their own masks and provide thermometers for self-monitoring of their health. At the child care center, the tribe will provide picture-based signage that informs parents and children about health and safety procedures, floor markers, carpets, dividers/plexiglass that enforce social distancing, and additional toys to minimize sharing of items. Within the facility, the tribe will create more independent work spaces for staff to eliminate sharing of common computers and work stations, incorporate a quarantine area for children presenting symptoms of illness, and purchase a new washer and dryer for frequently used items such as blankets, bedding, and towels.
The Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma with about 32,000 members will use the funds in ways that address issues unique to their community. They will conduct research about the need for a potential 24-hour operational child care facility in the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center (CNMC). The center employs approximately 1,300 people, many of them parents to young children that need child care during nontraditional hours outside of 8am-6pm. They also plan to invest in a car seat safety check station placed within the pediatric drive-through clinic at the CNMC campus. Furthermore, this tribe will provide grants for new facilities in rural areas of the Chickasaw Nation’s 13 counties, provide grants for local public schools to implement before-, after-, and summer-school programs, and create language and cultural Chickasaw programs.
Overall, while the CRRSA funding provided tribes with the flexibility to be responsive to the needs of their community, it left some tribes without the guidance they needed to effectively use their funding at all. The pandemic destabilized child care in many tribal communities, leaving many families and children without the care they rely on. CRRSA, along with the other emergency relief funding bills (CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan), sought to mitigate the disastrous impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing support to tribal providers to help them remain in business.
The Office of Child Care is requiring all tribes to submit a final report detailing how they spent their CRRSA funding by October 31, 2022. We look forward to reviewing the OCC report on how these funds were used in order to determine how to best help tribes provide high-quality child care and early learning programming both in the short and long term.
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