A private daycare in Terrace still doesn’t know if they are eligible for government funds used to reduce childcare fees for parents, days after the subsidies were expected to kick in.
“We don’t even know if we’re going to get it yet. We plan on operating as usual, and when we get the approval then we can offer rebates to the families,” Jennifer Maillet, owner of Willow Creek daycare, said.
Over the weekend, the Child Care Operating Funding (CCOF) contract given to providers in late March was amended to include calculation methods for the opt-in parent fee reduction. The amendment, effective May 1, determines the amount by which contractors are required to reduce parent fees beginning in April. This information was not included in the original legal document but within an FAQ page provided by the government.
“It’s great that this was included, it’s exciting,” Maillet said, even though she was told by her lawyer not to sign the contract originally because of the lack of stipulation on the province’s behalf on subsidy payment timelines. She decided to opt-in anyway, going in “good faith” with the province.
However, Maillet said she is still frustrated by the rollout of the program. Facilities are categorically approved based on previous rate increases, so if a facility increased their fees incrementally over several years, they’re more likely to get approval for the CCOF subsidies than a cheaper daycare who proposed higher fees for that year alone.
Because Willow Creek fits into a secondary category, their approval process remains in limbo for now.
“We’re happy to have amendments to the contract, but there are lots of questions about what this three-year plan entails,” Maillet said. “It would be nice not to have such a vague plan and some transparency about what the government’s intentions are.”
According to a provincial press release, providers have applied for fee reductions for more than 18,000 children and ‘more providers are opting-in to savings for families every day.’ To date, 61 per cent of eligible child care providers in the province are on board with an 86 per cent opt-in rate.
On March 28, Premier John Horgan defended the government’s childcare rollout amid criticism from some daycare operators, and said the fee reductions will offer families ‘relief, and help people, particularly women, return to work.’
“Parents in every corner of B.C. will start seeing their child care bills go down next month,” he said to reporters at a daycare at Douglas College in New Westminster, B.C.
Two weeks ago, Maillet joined the newly organized B.C. Childcare Owners Association (BCCCOA), which was established shortly following the release of the NDP’s 2018 budget.
Amanda Worms, the spokesperson for BCCCOA and owner of Little Owl Academy in Kelowna, said her interpretation of the contract has operators receiving less money than what is needed to offer the full discount to parents. She was also advised not to sign after discovering random errors within the legal document.
For example, Worms said the contract references sections that do not exist and lists four different subsidy rates depending on billable days in the month. And before the amendment to the funding agreement was made over the long weekend, Worms, who is an accountant, said the contract only worked in a perfect 21-day billable month.
“So every month are parent payments going to be different?” Worms said over the phone. “I want to opt-in, I want to help, but you wouldn’t sign a mortgage agreement with incorrect information in it.”
The majority of the providers within the Childcare Owners Association are not opting in, or are waiting until May to decide, according to Worms. The contract itself was created with input from the Provincial Child Care Council (PCCC), who’s 21-member board only includes three private daycare owners.
“The trust has been obliterated. We’re all terrified because people have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in these spaces and we’re very passionate about the work that we do.” Worms said, who hasn’t received a paycheck herself in 6 months.
She said some daycare facilities that she spoke to are giving their families a price reduction for April anyways, despite not knowing if they are even eligible for the subsidies yet.
Facing similar concerns, Maillet said she was able to speak with BC Premier John Horgan during his visit to Terrace on March 27 at the Elephant Ear Cafe. She said she told Horgan that she feels the people the province is consulting with are primarily advocates like the Early Childhood Educators of B.C. (ECEBC), leaving out front-line workers.
“Horgan said he hears there are frustrations and they are working as fast as they can to resolve the issues. I do think that the plan has good points, but we need to address other things first,” Maillet said, who works full-time at two other jobs and has invested $100,000 personally into Willow Creek daycare.
“Realistically, there’s no money in childcare, we do it because we’re passionate about it. This isn’t my livelihood, this is my community service. This isn’t what is paying my mortgage.”