A South Surrey daycare operator says “huge problems” with a government initiative lauded to make licensed child care more affordable for B.C. families pushed her to the brink of bankruptcy.
Joanna Mueggenburg, owner of K.I.N. Outdoor Learning Centre, said she was forced to borrow thousands of dollars in order to cover the per-space funding subsidy that families of young kids were promised would kick in on Dec. 1 last year, as part of the Child Care Fee Reduction Initiative (CCFRI).
Licensed in November, Mueggenburg said she was owed nearly $40,000 in funding for December through March as of last week, and was still waiting for her CCFRI application to be approved.
Tuesday (March 28), she expressed relief at learning this week that everything was finally moving forward – with $27,000 of the funds owed to soon be deposited – but said she remains concerned for other operators who may not have been able to hang on.
“Lucky I was able to make it through this, but there’s probably a lot of people who couldn’t,” Mueggenburg said.
“I was very, very close to having to close my doors because of the processing delays.”
The provincial government announced in September 2022 that families with young kids in licensed child care would see their monthly fees drop automatically by up to $550 per month starting Dec. 1.
Education and Child Care Minister Jennifer Whiteside said at the time that the fee reductions, available at centres where providers have opted in to the CCFRI, would mean families with children in kindergarten and younger in eligible care – around 69,000 kids – would receive the lower fees.
The savings were on top of earlier reductions of $350 per month for children younger than three years old in group care, bringing the total fee cut to $900 a month, Whiteside noted.
“We are moving towards our goal of $10-a-day child care for every family by reducing fees for parents and supporting providers,” she said.
It was expected that 12,500 $10-a-day spaces would be created by Dec. 31, 2022.
In an emailed statement to Peace Arch News Tuesday, Minister of State for Child Care Grace Lore said ministry staff “are working closely with providers to resolve issues and incomplete applications, to make sure families receive savings.”
The delay in Mueggenburg’s case related to “outstanding information” on her application; information Mueggenburg just learned – despite multiple, hours-long waits in the CCFRI telephone helpline queue – dates back to 2021.
She doesn’t know why her 2023-24 application was not affected, or when she will see the initial $27,000 deposited, but said it is “not fair” that she and other operators have essentially had to fund the province’s initiative.
“We only get $1,000 per space and when half of it is government-funded, it’s a lot of money to be out-of-pocket.”
Mueggenburg is not alone in her frustrations.
Holly Halford, who applied to the program after opening her Blossoms and Roots centre in White Rock in February, said this week that she, too, was still waiting for word on funding.
Operating a total of 48 spaces – 40 in White Rock and another eight spaces in South Surrey at her Baby Acorns location – it’s “a significant amount of money… that I’m subsidizing right now,” she said.
“I’m two months behind in payments.”
Halford, who is the wife of Surrey-White Rock Liberal MLA Trevor Halford, also named processing delays as among key issues.
Another, she said, is that the roll-out is only supporting one type of childcare operator: not-for-profit.
“It’s wonderful that government is paying more attention to childcare, but their initiative is also squeezing private operators in a way that a lot of us may not be able to continue providing care.”
“I think there’s a better way of doing it.”
Halford, who noted demand for childcare far outweighs supply, said if her funding isn’t sorted out soon – CCFRI agreements are set to renew Friday (April 1) – she will have to ask parents to pay the full cost of their spaces until it is.
Surrey South MLA Elenore Sturko highlighted the issue in a tweet last week, charging the NDP was mismanaging the roll-out in B.C., as providers can’t afford the imposed cost restraints.
The NDP are mismanaging the rollout of affordable childcare in BC – providers can’t afford the imposed cost constraints. I’ve heard from multiple providers in Surrey who feel desperate under the current plan because they can’t pay the bills. #bcpoli https://t.co/YcsW22vLXU
— Elenore Sturko (@elenoresturko) March 21, 2023
Monday (March 27), Childcare Critic Karin Kirkpatrick, MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano, said she continues to field concerns.
Many operators waiting for the subsidies have begun sending parents letters advising them to expect to pay the full fees, she said.
“Government has this program, but they’re pushing the costs down to the providers… kind of driving people out of the program,” Kirkpatrick said.
“It’s not being rolled out in an equitable way,” she added.
Kirkpatrick said government needs to look again at the roll-out, as well as simplify the application process.
The statement from Lore’s ministry noted that eligible providers who submitted complete applications by March 9 will receive approval by April 1, “and families at these centres will not have their savings interrupted.”
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