The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors homed in on access to childcare for infants and toddlers this week as it considered how to allocate $2 million in federal pandemic relief money.
First 5 Santa Barbara County, which is focused on early childhood development and family support programs, told the board this week its ideas for how to allocate the funds for its Emergency Child Care Initiative.
First 5 recommended either providing direct support to households, giving funding to small businesses or related industries or developing a request for a proposal on how to allocate funding.
After the presentation, the board unanimously agreed to work with First 5 in developing an RFP for the funds with a focus on infant and toddler childcare.
“I believe we have a structural problem,” said Chair Joan Hartmann. “We have $2 million, and if it just goes to individual family support, that money will be gone, but we will not have addressed a major structural problem that faces all employers and families in this county.”
There are nearly 72,000 children (ages birth to 12) in Santa Barbara County, First 5 estimated in its presentation to the board.
Before COVID-19, more than 46,750 needed some type of childcare outside of the home because of their parents’ work schedules during the week, according to First 5 Santa Barbara County.
There are about 18,000 known licensed and licensed-exempt spaces for childcare in the county. The strongest need is seen among infants and toddlers: There are only about 1,627 spaces available for the 9,967 children who need care, according to First 5 Santa Barbara County.
The average monthly cost for a full-time infant is about $1,481; monthly costs for a toddler are about $1,346; and for a preschooler, it’s about $1,194, according to a presentation given to the board.
Supervisor Gregg Hart predicted the RFP could be done “quickly and succinctly” and result in the best partner for the county to address early childcare issues.
The United Way of Santa Barbara County recently told the Santa Barbara City Council that families with kids aged 0-5 can expect to spend an estimated 37% of their monthly income on childcare costs.
As a comparison, the median gross rent was estimated to be $1,893 in Santa Barbara and Goleta, according to data from the 2020 Census, the UWSBC said. So a family of four with an infant and pre-school child could spend about $2,675 per month on childcare — and yearly costs for both rent and childcare would be more than $56,000. That is 12% more than the annual salary for two full-time jobs at minimum wage in Santa Barbara County, according to the UWSBC.
The Board of Supervisors was originally tasked with considering the allocation of this $2 million in ARPA funds in October but requested additional information from First 5.
First 5 asked the board to consider relief and recovery efforts with the funding.