By Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr Reporter
Boise is hoping to bring a little relief to the struggling childcare industry.
This fall, the city council gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to a series of three proposals to relieve some of the regulatory hoops childcare workers have jump through to get licensed in city limits. These suggestions were proposed by a childcare task force made up of local business leaders, childcare providers and industry experts convened by Mayor Lauren McLean earlier this year.
The changes include the possibility of a temporary license that would allow childcare workers who have passed local and state background checks to start work while they are waiting on their federal check to clear. The task force also suggested waiving fees for new and renewed licenses and covering the cost of required CPR training for childcare workers.
CHILDCARE SHORTAGE HITTING ECONOMY, IDAHOANS’ WALLETS
McLean said even before the pandemic one of her transition committees noted the importance of childcare, but the need for availability and affordable options to keep the economy going has become even more obvious in the past year and a half.
“Our economic recovery task force recommended this is a place where the city could engage in appropriate spots and in partnerships with others and because of that we called together a childcare task force to put on paper the steps that could be taken by a city to support the need for access to affordable childcare and to enough childcare as we look at how we ensure the foundation is there for a strong economy,” she said.
A needs assessment from the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children released in February found 50% of Idahoans live in a childcare desert. This is defined as an area with no licensed childcare providers or where for every spot available in a facility there are more than three kids.
The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry estimated problems with accessing childcare costs the Gem State’s economy $479 million a year. This includes $414 million in costs to employers due to absent employees and turnover rates and $65.4 million in lost tax revenue.
TEMPORARY LICENSE COULD GET WORKERS STARTED QUICKER
Childcare workers in Boise have to go through several steps and layers of background checks before they can start working in a licensed facility. This includes fingerprints, CPR and First Aid training, paying an application fee and waiting to clear a background check from the federal government.
But, the problem is that in the tight labor market some workers find other jobs before their federal background check clears or they don’t want to wait long enough before finding new employment.
“The goal is to reduce the time between application and the ability to work,” McLean’s Director of Strategic Initiatives Jillana Finnegan told council. “We heard this impacts their ability to recruit and retain employees. This is of high value to our community partners, particularly in this time of crisis.”
The proposed ordinance would allow workers who have already gone through a local and state background check and passed their necessary training to receive a temporary license to begin work right away. While holding the temporary license, the worker would not be allowed to be alone with a child, but they would still count toward the needed staff-to-child ratio.
It would cost $4,000 to make this change. Finnegan said it is extremely rare for a worker to pass the first layers of background checks and fail the federal check, but it is still a possibility. If someone were to fail that background check, their temporary license would be revoked and they could no longer work.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
The other parts of the proposal are financial, including waiving the $81.75 cost per license application to workers. This could cost the city an estimated $56,000 annually. Finnegan said the city is exploring using American Rescue Plan funds to cover this cost and it would be instituted for two years to gauge the sustainability of the program and how much it helps workers.
Workers are also required to complete necessary training in First Aid and CPR to become childcare workers, which costs roughly $50 in the private market. The third recommendation is to create a subsidy or scholarship program to cover this cost for workers who cannot front the money themselves before they can start work.
City Council Member Holli Woodings and the other council members praised the idea.
“This has been a lot of work really making sure kids are going to be safe while we cut a little bit of the red tape that keeps workers from jobs in this area,” she said. “I look forward to supporting this. I think it’s a critical change. I have been hearing from a lot of childcare providers who have been saying “please, when can we expect this?”