Utah isn't planning to roll out child care worker subsidies, despite a bill that calls for it

Posted at 4:45 PM, Jun 27, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — Like a lot of child care facilities across the state, the YWCA of Utah has experienced challenges in hiring and keeping staff.

People leave for higher paying jobs. One reason? Some have got their own child care needs, which can get expensive.

"We needed to retain staff in ways that our pay couldn’t do. Child care just doesn’t pay what it should. We’ve lost people to that, previously," Rachael Cervantes, the director of the YWCA of Utah's Child Care Services, told FOX 13 News. "So we took a leap of faith and decided to pay for all of our child care workers’ child care. Just because it is expensive. Upwards of $1,500 a month and when you’re getting paid $15 an hour, it’s just not affordable."

The YWCA estimates it spends about $12,000 a month to offer child care for its own employees. It fundraises right now to help cover that cost.

The Utah State Legislature passed a bill earlier this year that is trying to help all child care facilities as they struggle to retain workers, authorizing the Department of Workforce Services to give out subsidies for child care facilities to cover their employees child care. It won overwhelming support in the House and Senate and was signed by Governor Spencer Cox.

"We can’t have child care if we don’t have child care workers, and we need to make it easier for people to be in child care," said Anna Thomas, the policy director for the advocacy group Voices for Utah Children.

The bill went into effect on May 1, allowing Workforce Services to seek federal funding for the new subsidies. Other states are trying the same approach. But so far, the bill has yet to be rolled out in Utah.

"It was contingent on being allowed by our federal rules and regulations and also by funding availability. We spent time over the last couple of months looking to see if we could implement this program, and we did not receive any additional funding," Rebecca Banner, the deputy director of Utah's Department of Workforce Services, told FOX 13 News on Thursday.

Banner said the money they get is already spoken for. The agency uses its funding to offer subsidies for lower-income families to get child care and to ensure that there is quality child care in the state.

Not launching the program has frustrated advocates like Voices for Utah Children, who argue it would cost anywhere from $2 million to $8 million.

"It’s not a huge investment for us as taxpayers. But when we help get that one child care professional in the classroom and staying in the classroom? We potentially open up anywhere between four and eight child care slots. So the return on investment for Utah’s child care system is pretty profound," Thomas said.

The Utah State Legislature did not do a lot for child care this session. Advocates left the session upset they didn't see funding or legislation passed, even with warnings that federal COVID relief money would be drying up. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ashlee Matthews, D-Kearns, told FOX 13 News she was frustrated to learn her bill — one of the few pieces of legislation that did pass — was not being enacted by Workforce Services at this time.

"If they need a little bit more clarity as to the intent of the legislature and the intent of implementing the program? I guess we will have to revisit this," Rep. Matthews said Thursday.

Banner said the bill gave Workforce Services latitude in implementing it. She said the agency does offer child care subsidies that people who meet certain income thresholds can apply for.

"I can’t predict if we’re going to be getting additional funding, but we will continue to look to see what funding we have available," Banner said. "If we’re able to, we’d be able to implement that program."

Cervantes said the subsidies would help child care centers across Utah keep going.

"When they take that help away, it makes it harder for us even to continue to run," she said.