FARGO — North Dakota child care providers could be receiving up to $11 million a month in emergency grants from the state for at least the next few months to keep their doors open.

Gov. Doug Burgum and Department of Human Services Director Chris Jones made the announcement Thursday, March 26, noting that their services are needed for "lifeline workers" as well as in the recovery phase.

Burgum said the No. 1 objective of the new plan is to protect the health of the children and their providers in the state's 1,800 licensed preschool centers and in-home facilities.

This came as the first case of a child contracting coronavirus in the state was reported earlier in a child care center in Wishek in the central part of the state. The facility was shut down for at least 14 days over concerns about who was in contact with the 2-year-old boy who had underlying health conditions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19, with adults making up most of the cases.

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The other top considerations, Burgum said, were to keep facilities open for the children of essential workers and to sustain operations down the road because child care providers are needed by almost every business in the state.

In another move, Jones said the department is coordinating with school districts for additional child care services for those in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Although schools are closed, he said the governor's executive order allows them to be used on a temporary basis. School paraprofessionals, all of whom have undergone background checks, could be employed as providers in the school operations, he said.

"We need a fully functioning system," Burgum said, noting that 71% of children up to age 5 have both parents working as well as 78% of those ages 6 to 12. There are 132,000 children in the state under the age of 12.

Kristin Nelson, vice president for the Area Preschool Advocates and a childcare provider, said she was "extremely pleased" with the plan that takes effect Monday, March 30. She was part of a group of small and larger providers who talked with state officials about plans.

She didn't know how large grants might be starting April 10 but was going to learn more in a conference call with Jones and other providers Thursday night. Information is also on the Department of Human Services website.

However, after that call when more details were released, another Fargo child care provider, Jason Brandt, who operates three Children's Montessori Centers, said he was "very disappointed with the dollars" in the plan.

"It's really not going to help," he said as the numbers of children were down 25% in his schools in the past week.

The plan calls for an extra $300 per child per month up to the licensed capacity and a requirement that centers recruit families to keep their facilities full.

Brandt said they were hoping for at least double that amount with no restrictions on recruiting as they watch for limits to each room in centers. He doesn't see why the state's Legacy Fund of oil and gas tax revenue can't be tapped to help the child care industry.

"I don't think it's going to work for a lot of child care centers," he said.

As for safety issues, Jones said they are requiring all licensed facilities in the state to take more precautions and allow only 10 adults and children per room. Other guidelines were to limit access to facilities and contact between groups of children.

Previously, rules were set at one worker or teacher per four infants and one per 18 of school-age children.

Jones said all licensed facilities are eligible for grants. One stipulation of the grant means parents working from home who have had children in child care before the coronavirus pandemic happened can only be charged a maximum of $50 per month to hold a spot for their kids.

Jones said the grants will continue for at least nine weeks and will be used for operating expenses, including pay for the estimated 5,800 child care workers.

The "lifeline workers" who have priorities for services at the centers include those in health care, food supply and law enforcement, Jones said. A complete list of essential workers will be on the department's website at www.nd.gov/dhs.

The plan started after concerns were raised by the industry and surveys found some were already closed or said they couldn't make it another two weeks.

In Minnesota, plans are in place to assist child care providers. Gov. Tim Walz said six Minnesota Initiative Foundations have launched a financial aid program to help providers in rural Minnesota. Another foundation is helping metro families.

Ashley Nedrebo, who operates Ashley's Daycare in Moorhead, said she had looked at some of the options for aid but that she was licensed for 10 children, including three of her own, and that her operation was full.

"The only thing we are having trouble with is getting enough milk and bread," she said.

With shelter in place order in Minnesota, she said they are just kind of taking things "week-to-week."

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