COLUMBUS (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST) — Columbus city leaders have a new plan to use $3.5 million in federal pandemic relief funding to help relieve the city’s childcare crunch by supporting low-income families and addressing labor shortages in the childcare industry.

Mayor Andrew Ginther and Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin announced that the city will seek to provide signing bonuses for childcare workers, pay for a marketing campaign for the industry, and provide scholarships for low-income families. Legislation related to those efforts will be presented to the council soon.

“As the pandemic continues, working families across Columbus, like much of the nation, still face significant hurdles when re-entering the workforce, especially when trying to secure affordable, reliable child care,” Ginther said in a press release.

Ginther said the funds will provide “vital relief to individuals and families doing their best to lead happy, healthy and productive lives during what remains a very challenging and uncertain time.”

The new funding comes as the childcare industry in Columbus struggles to stay afloat, and families struggle to afford and access the care.

As we reported, a new Ohio State University study found that 60% of Franklin County families with young children reported difficulties accessing childcare due to affordability, scheduling challenges, and a lack of convenient options.

Council President Pro Tem Elizabeth Brown has called the issue a “matter of basic infrastructure that supports our economy and invests in the future by preparing kids for success.”

In addition, the Ohio Association of Child Care Providers found that 76% of the state’s childcare centers have openings to hire new staff, and 61% have closed or reduced classroom sizes due to worker shortages.

About half of childcare centers have denied new enrollments as a result of the worker shortage, and half have also enacted waiting lists.

“Families in Columbus deserve affordable, convenient child care and early-learning choices,” Hardin said in the release. “Not only are these critical investments for the development of Columbus’ youngest residents, but they give families the flexibility to earn more and build a better life.”

Here’s how the new funding will be distributed:

  • The city will dedicate $500,000 to fund 500, one-time $1,000 signing bonuses to new childcare workers, who earn an average of just over $10 per hour.
  • Another $500,000 will support “a marketing campaign to assist in recruitment efforts,” according to the release. Those initiatives will be administered by childcare resource and referral agency Action for Children.
  • Another $2.5 million will go toward 250 scholarships for low-income families.

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