$66 million grant aims to reward Nebraska childcare workers 

Deborah Van Fleet

(Nebraska News Connection) As a way to reward those who have stayed in the child care field, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is offering $66 million in stipends and loan repayment grants to workers with at least six continuous months at a licensed child care facility in the state.

The state is using federal coronavirus funds for the grants.

In a survey of 750 Nebraska childcare employers this year, 90 percent said they've had trouble finding and keeping workers. The average hourly wage in child care is $12.31 an hour, and many positions are part-time with no benefits.

Ashley Palumbo, a childcare worker in Omaha, said although the state has not announced the grant amounts, it is a step in the right direction.

"I mean just the appreciation out the door that's something they are considering to help us financially, especially lately, means a lot," Palumbo explained. "I live paycheck to paycheck, so any sort of help definitely helps me and my kids out."

Applications will be accepted from December 5 to January 11.

In the same survey, 70 percent of childcare employers also said some of their workers are leaving the field entirely. Palumbo noted she has no plans to change fields, although some find her choice hard to understand.

"Most of my interactions with people in my close life just don't seem to get why I stay in a profession that doesn't help out as much as easier areas can," Palumbo acknowledged.

Heather Schmidt, a home childcare center owner-operator in Broken Bow, hopes both she and her employee will be awarded a stipend. Schmidt added she also plans to apply for the loan repayment grant.

"We're some of the lowest-paid workers in the state and the nation," Schmidt stressed. "Which they're always advocating for us to increase our education, but then it's really hard to pay back those loans."

Full- and part-time licensed child care employees can apply, from teachers to kitchen staff. Those who have earned higher degrees will be eligible for higher awards.