Evers finds $170M in federal dollars to keep pandemic-era child care subsidy program afloat

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will use newly discovered federal dollars to keep a pandemic-era child care subsidy program going for another year and a half, his administration announced Monday after Republican legislators refused to devote any more money to the program.

Officials with Evers’ administration said Monday they will use $170 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency pandemic response operations to keep the Child Care Counts program running through June 2025. Evers ripped Republicans in a news release, saying that it’s “unconscionable” that the GOP wouldn’t extend the program.

“It’s time for Republicans to get serious about solving our problems and join us in doing the right thing for our kids and families, our workforce, and our state,” Evers said.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu accused Evers of playing political games when he could have funded the program at any moment.

“Governor Evers … spent months going around the state telling child care providers that they were going to have to close their doors when he could have used (federal pandemic relief) money to preserve Child Care Counts all along,” LeMahieu said a in a statement. “Governing isn’t a game, and Governor Evers continues to irresponsibly play games with Wisconsin families’ budgets for political purposes.”

A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Launched in 2020, the Child Cares Counts program provides child care providers across the country with money to help retain staffs as well as cover curriculum, utility and rent costs. The program handed out almost $600 million dollars to nearly 5,000 child care providers in Wisconsin between March 2020 and March 2023, according to the state’s nonprofit Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The program is set to expire in January, leading many to warn that the loss of the subsidies could lead to child care providers shutting their doors or a decline in early education services, particularly in rural areas.

Evers has been trying to persuade Republicans to use Wisconsin’s $7 billion surplus to keep Child Care Counts afloat in Wisconsin. His state budget called for spending $300 million in state money for the program over the next two years.

GOP lawmakers stripped the plan from the budget. Evers called a special legislative session last month in hopes of prodding Republicans to take action, but they have refused to cooperate with the governor.

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