Big Hearts, Open Arms, and Long Hours: CARES Act Funding Brings Childcare Providers and Nebraska Children Together

Cheri Bahr works six days a week, sometimes seven. When she’s not working, she wishes she was. She’s a CEO, a small business owner, and a teacher. 

She is, in other words, a childcare provider. And she’s rightly proud to say that she’s been one for 34 years.  

Meet Cheri Bahr of Falls City, Nebraska. She's been a childcare provider for 34 years and is among those who put themselves on the frontlines every day so families can work and children can thrive.
Meet Cheri Bahr of Falls City, Nebraska. She’s been a childcare provider for 34 years and is among those who put themselves on the frontlines every day so families can work and children can thrive.

When the pandemic struck, Cheri was caught in difficult financial straits. She had a mortgage to pay, and as an in-home provider, her mortgage represented her home AND business. 

When our early childhood programs endure these financial woes, so does the rest of our economy. In Nebraska, more than 76% of children under age 6 live in homes where all adults work1, which means those children are in some kind of care. 

The Bottom Line Report, published in 2020 by First Five Nebraska, also indicates that Nebraska’s families, businesses, and state tax revenues have forfeited almost $745 million in annual direct losses due to a childcare shortage. Moreover, childcare providers allow parents to work, which keeps our economy going, while encouraging children’s social-emotional development for long-term success.  

Our unsung heros - childcare providers are often underpaid for an invaluable service that keeps our children AND economy thriving.
Our unsung heros – childcare providers are often underpaid for an invaluable service that keeps our children AND economy thriving.

In April 2020, a survey of child care providers conducted by the Buffet Early Childhood Institute showed that nearly half of all providers felt they could be out of business within six months if the pandemic continued. The early childhood workforce has been heroes during this pandemic, providing care to the children of many workers who are not able to work from home. They have been putting their own health on the line to care for others’ children but have taken a major financial hit as they have not been able to operate at full capacity.

When federal CARES Act money came into Nebraska, a portion of those dollars being earmarked for childcare providers, Nebraska Children agreed to help distribute that money. 

Stephanni Renn, Marti Beard, Rachel Sissel, Betty Medinger, and countless other Nebraska Children and Families Foundation staff members have also worked long after the traditional day has ended. They’ve sifted through applications, taken phone calls, tallied receipts, and led countless meetings. They’re likely the last people to announce their contributions, but sometimes, hard work should be acknowledged.  

Marti Beard, Assistant Vice President of Early Childhood Programs, still reminds us that she and her team prefer to remain humble, as our communities as are at the center of this story. 

“I think all of our programs should focus on the communities’ accomplishments, not on our organization,” said Marti. 

As an organization that envisions all families, children, and providers thriving, as a rule, Nebraska Children is content to remain in the background.  

That said, this story can be about our early childhood professionals’ struggles and our staff living out their expertise and our organization’s mission. Every successful effort is a collective one. Today, we’ll share how the CARES Act Stabilization and Incentive to Reopen Funds have further proven our team and providers’ strengths. First, a bit of history into how we became involved in this project to help support providers.  

Cheri is grateful for the assistance she received from the CARES Act; how can we support our providers from here?
Cheri is grateful for the assistance she received from the CARES Act; how can we support our providers from here?

Nebraska Children is glad to play a pivotal role throughout the CARES Act application process. The funds were awarded to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NEDHHS), Nebraska Children served as a subgrantee to oversee the application and distribution process.  

The Stabilization Funds ($5,550) were geared toward licensed childcare providers who needed to defray expenses such as mortgage, rent, utility payments, and cleaning supplies incurred during the pandemic. The Incentive to Reopen Funds ($2,000 for preschools; $3,000 for childcare centers) were intended to help cover providers’ expenses such as staff salaries, utilities, and childcare supplies, as they reopened.  

As we were working to help providers with their applications, we also obtained a clearer picture of Nebraska’s childcare landscape. Whereas 49% of Metro Counties including Lancaster and Cass, Douglas, Sarpy, Saunders, and Washington applied for the Stabilization and Incentive to Reopen Funds, the remaining 51% of applications were from the Greater Nebraska area.  

Overall, we awarded $9,972,000. One thing is for certain – Nebraska’s childcare providers endured an unexpected blow from the pandemic, but for many Nebraska families, providers, and childcare centers, the struggle to find, afford, and earn a sustainable living childcare wage has been an issue long before COVID-19.  

Throughout the pandemic, our providers, who serve an indispensible role for our families and economy, were hit hard - and they continue to endure the effects.
Throughout the pandemic, our providers, who serve an indispensible role for our families and economy, were hit hard – and they continue to endure the effects.

Speaking of embarking on unfamiliar territory, during the pandemic, Cheri found herself behind on house payments because of an enrollment drop.  

“It was a drop in income,” she said. “I got behind on my house payment. [COVID] changed a lot; you have to be more careful. Mainly, the income was [the most difficult part of COVID]. Some days, I didn’t have any kids [in my care].”   

Nonetheless, Cheri did what she loved, which was care for her children.  

“It was hard,” she said. “I was several thousand dollars behind. I’ll deal with it, but the CARES Act [funding] helped me catch up on bills and supplies, including timecards, billing books, craft things, food, and Sixpence brought extra food!”  

Sixpence is a Nebraska Children Early Childhood initiative that provides developmental resources, activities, and home visits for infants and toddlers, their families, and childcare providers. Cheri is a Sixpence CCP participant, which works with childcare providers to create quality care and developmental learning.  

Cheri is a Sixpence CCP participant. Sixpence CCP helps providers deliver quality, developmentally appropriate care and activities to toddlers and infants from prenatal to three.
Cheri is a Sixpence CCP participant. Sixpence CCP helps providers deliver quality, developmentally appropriate care and activities to toddlers and infants from prenatal to 3.

Cheri said she continues to deal with financial challenges. 

“[There’s] my house payment—and the front of my house needs windows. The front of it has plastic, and I need screw-in fuses; I need a breaker box,” she said. “I’ll do one thing at a time. The kids say, ‘There’s plastic on the windows!’”  

Nonetheless, she continues to remain resilient. “I enjoy and love what I’m doing. There are some Sundays when I don’t have kids [in my care] and I wonder what they’re doing,” she said.  

To boot, Cheri said that she isn’t computer savvy. So, when the CARES Act funding online applications were available, she said she appreciated her [Sixpence] coach’s help.  

“I’m NOT a computer person! I [care for] kids six to seven days per week; I’m not done at 5 pm! [Susan’s] been a great help.” 

Cheri said that her Sixpence coach, Susan Witt demystified the application process. “Susan brought her laptop, sat there, and filled [the application] out for me,” she said.  

As we move into a new Nebraska, we envision childcare providers AND children thriving in every way possible.
As we move into a new Nebraska, we envision childcare providers AND children thriving in every way possible.

Cheri currently deals with an unknown future, “We’ve had COVID throughout [our local school district]. [Kids] don’t get shots,” she said.  

“I hope we can get back to normal – if we even know what that is! Parents [have] stayed home with their kids, so there’s a good side to this, but I don’t like to be away from my kids!” she said.   

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Nebraska Children and Families Foundation supports children, young adults and families at risk with the overall goal of giving our state's most vulnerable kids what they need to reach their full potential. We do this by building strong communities that support families so their children can grow up to be thriving, productive adults.

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