SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Laurie Gill hopes everyone recognizes the role child care plays in the economy.
Gill, a Cabinet Secretary and top administrator of South Dakota’s Department of Social Services, will help oversee the use of $100 million in federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act to stabilize and support a quality child care industry.
“I talk to parents all over the place that are concerned about whether they’ll be able to find affordable child care. Business leaders are worried about it as well and so are state leaders, so it’s a big issue for us,” Gill told KELOLAND News. “There’s lots of different pieces with this that we’re working on.”
Gill said the COVID-19 pandemic has put pressure on child care both at in-home daycares and larger daycare centers. Current licensed and registered daycare providers can start applying for $60 million next week and applications will be accepted through February 25. Applications have to be submitted at the DSS website.
“That’s how we’re going to get a portion of the $100 million out the door and into the arms of the providers currently licensed and registered so they can stabilize,” said Gill, who added providers can use them on expenses, personnel costs, equipment or other needs.
However, Gill emphasized everyone should remember the $100 million is one-time funding only.
“Whatever they’re choosing to use the funds for, it’s one time,” Gill said. “Personnel costs, benefits, premium pay, employee recruitment and retention are all part of the options the providers can use the money for.”
Daycare staffing remains an issue in South Dakota. A recent study from Augustana University showed how challenging day care is for parents in Sioux Falls. The study said the average day care worker in Sioux Falls made around $22,000 a year.
“If you would talk to people in Sioux Falls, they will say that they have a crisis because they need so many different slots for children and they are having workforce issues,” Gill said. “Then I talk to people in very small, rural communities and they have the same issues. Many different small communities are banding together to try to find solutions.”
Along with providing money directly to current day care operators, Gill said DSS is looking at license barriers for new day cares as well as looking at ways to help new startups.
“The main thing is we all understand that child care is a big part of our economy and that there are hurdles and barriers to child care in our state,” Gill said. “We all need to work together to partner to solve some of these issues.”
Gill said there’s different philosophies when it comes to child care, but admitted government has a certain role to play.
“We do believe that the private sector is out there and that the providers that are running daycares as businesses need to be able to do that,” Gill said. “It’s a balance between the role that the government plays in this and the role of the business side of it.”
Gill said there needs to be options for families that work in South Dakota. She added DSS has staff ready to provide assistance for any provider with questions or understanding how the money can flow.
“We’re very grateful to Governor Noem for having this being a primary part of what we’re doing going forward and the interest in shoring up the day care system in South Dakota,” Gill said.