Thousands of families will lose free child care as federal COVID-19 relief funding expires

TENNESSEE — Federal COVID-19 relief money is running out at the end of this year.

This means families of more than 41,000 children across Tennessee without access to free child care starting in January.

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The state said this support was for our essential workers which isn’t limited to doctors, nurses and first responders. Essential workers also include grocery store workers, postal service employees and restaurant workers.

For months, houses of worship like Impact Baptist Church and Ministries have become classrooms but these virtual learning sites are in jeopardy of closing as federal cares act funding expires on December 31.

The Tennessee Department of Human Services started the COVID-19 Pandemic Child Care Payment Assistance program to give essential workers access to free child care.

It’s a program that has helped nearly 6,500 children in Shelby County alone.

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Church member Charlie Caswell said this program is vital for parents trying to juggle going to work while students are learning virtually.

“Many of these parents are already living paycheck to paycheck and are trying to figure out what to do with their children and where they can take their children during this pandemic and I think it’s just going to add more stress to that family,” said Caswell with Legacy of Legends.

Sky Arnold, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Human Services, told FOX13 since the program started this spring, the state spent almost $110 million through November 30.  Arnold said all federal funding sources available have been “exhausted” and at this point, the program will end.

The department partnered with the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Clubs to set up these free child care sites.

In an online update to parents, YMCA staff said its working to provide care options for families in Memphis as virtual learning continues in January.

Caswell said any loss in funding or virtual learning sites will have a major impact on the community.

“We hope that the support continue to come in because these parents do need a separate site, like what we are offering at impact church for them to be able to go to work,” said Caswell.

Arnold said they’re keeping a close eye on what happens in Washington to see if there’s any potential federal funding for the program.