SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) – On Monday, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh signed a joint proclamation with Onondaga County to declare April 4, 2022 as “Expand Child Care Day.”

This announcement comes just one week before applications open for the New York State Office of Children & Family Services’ $100 million dollar grant program to address child care deserts.

The grants will help new child care providers in underserved areas build their programs, cover startup and personnel costs, recruit, train and retain staff. Funding will also support staff in accessing COVID-19 vaccines.

Child care deserts are determined by how many children are under the age of 5 in the state’s census track in comparison to the amount of child care slots available at licensed and registered centers in an area.

If there are more than three children under the age of 5 on the census track for every available seat, the area is considered a child care desert. Most areas in Syracuse and Onondaga County are considered child care deserts.

The Executive Director of Child Care Solutions said a lot of the problem has to do with providers not having enough money to pay staff at a competitive wage.

Right now, the child care business is really hard to sustain because the market rates are set so slow from the state for reimbursement for children that are receiving a childcare subsidy, and families are at the point where they just can’t afford to pay anymore for care.  it’s not like other businesses where you just keep increasing your rates. Child care programs can’t. So as a result of that, they’re not able to pay their staff very well. As you can imagine in this economy where you can go work at McDonalds and make more than you can in childcare, why would you put yourself through? It’s hard work to provide care for children. It’s usually long hours and the pay is not great, and so these funds will help support that pay.

Lori Schakow, Executive Director, Childcare Solutions

As a longtime child care provider, Bettie Graham starts her days at 2:00 a.m. in order to properly care for the children she serves at The Determination Center in Syracuse.

“You have to love what you do and if you’re just in it for that, it’s not really worth it. I like to see the outcome. I like for them to grow up and be productive citizens.”

Bettie Graham, Founder, The Determination Center

When comparing Graham’s staff to the number of children who attend The Determination Center, the difference is staggering. She, her husband, and their children are the backbone of the center, filling every role a child care center needs to thrive.

You don’t have the money to pay people and you have to get volunteers, but they have to go through the criteria of the background checks and then we give them the application for all that. People get kind of like ‘I don’t want to do it’ because I have to go through all of this just to volunteer.

Bettie Graham, Founder, The Determination Center

If Graham is awarded the grant, she’ll dedicate the funding towards hiring more staff and buying more resources for the children.

All interested providers must complete the OCFS Child Day Care Orientation before applying grant opportunity. After completing the orientation, applicants can request a licensing application and apply.

Applications can be submitted as early as next Monday, April 11 until May 19 at 11:59 p.m.

Invest in New York Child Care awards will be for two years and must begin by June 30, 2022. Funding will come in quarterly payments.

If you’re a Central New York provider and need assistance with completing the OCFS Child Day Care orientation, contact Child Care Solutions at (315) 315-446-1220 ext. 0.