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Grant Could Improve Child Care, Workforce Development

Beth Starks, Jamestown Community College early childhood education specialist and Chautauqua Lake Child Care Center executive director, speaking about applying for a state grant to provide quality child care in the county to improve workforce development during the Jamestown Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative task force meeting at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Tuesday. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

The lack of quality child care providers is impacting workforce development in Chautauqua County.

On Tuesday, Beth Starks, Jamestown Community College early childhood education specialist and Chautauqua Lake Child Care Center executive director, discussed how the lack of quality child care is impeding workforce development in the county during a meeting of the Jamestown Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative task force at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

Starks said statewide there are only 18,000 child care providers, but 800,000 children in need of services. She said approximately only 180,000 children receive day care. She added there is a 35,564 gap in the number of children receiving quality day care and those in need of the service.

One of the main reasons cited for why someone is unemployed is the lack of quality day care, Starks said. She said in Western New York, that is the reason given by 70% of low-income families. She added if there was more access to day care, workforce development would improve because there would be more individuals with jobs.

Starks said the discussion in Chautauqua County linking child care and workforce development started in Dunkirk 18 months ago when a group of community stakeholders discussed the topic because there is no certified day care in the city. She said the conversation continued during a countywide meeting in August.

During both meetings, five goals were identified to possibly alleviate the child care problem in the county. The first goal is to increase capacity of the number of slots available for children by incentivizing the starting of new child care centers and in-home licensed providers. The second goal is to explore employer benefits and employee needs through a subsidy or voucher. The third goal is to expand early childhood workforce. The fourth goal is to making an improved child care system sustainable by included both the private and public sector. The fifth goal is to increase the quality and awareness of economic development issues.

Starks also discussed the “cliff effect,” which refers to a term used to describe an employee who has to decide between the benefits they receive from the state or an increase in pay. She said a lot of employees will not accept raises or more hours to increase their income because they are worried about losing the benefit funds they receive from the state.

A consolidated funding application to receive funding through the state Regional Economic Development Council program has been submitted, Starks said. The funding awards will be announced later this month.

Starks said the application, which was submitted by Chautauqua Opportunities, will be for $6 million for three years to start a sustainable program in the county to assist employers with providing employees with child care benefits.

Also during the meeting, Katie Geise, Chautauqua Works executive director, discussed how Chautauqua Works is working on a state grant application to expand an ESPRI program to make it countywide. She said, if state funding is received, The Resource Center’s SAFER (Supporting & Facilitating Employee Retention) program would be expanded from the ongoing city program, started through the ESPRI program, to a countywide initiative.

Geise said the SAFER program supports local businesses manage at-risk employees. SAFER targets employees who are considered “vulnerable” due to generational poverty and complex personal and work-related issues. SAFER provides an on-site resource for employees to help overcome their barriers to successful employment.

Geise said the application is currently being completed, with the hope that possible state funding would be granted to expand the program in 2020.

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