clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tennessee parents will have fewer options for child care as federal coronavirus relief money expires this month

Shelby County Schools students log in remotely from the YMCA’s virtual learning center in Cordova on the first day of school.
Shelby County Schools students log in remotely from the YMCA’s virtual learning center in Cordova on the first day of school.
Jacinthia Jones/Chalkbeat

Parents of more than 42,000 children across Tennessee will lose access to free child care in January as federal coronavirus relief money runs out.

The Tennessee Department of Human Services child care assistance program for workers deemed “essential” during the pandemic expires Dec. 31 and the state does not have plans to renew it.

Essential workers covered under the program included people at restaurants, airports, schools, shipping and distribution centers, grocery stores, police departments, and more. The state pays the child care facility the full cost of student supervision if the parent qualifies.

These workers are often people who have lower incomes, jobs with less flexible hours, and less money to pay for alternatives when classrooms are closed. Most students in Memphis live in poverty, while about a third of students across the state live in poverty.

A department spokesman said the state has “exhausted all of its funding” after spending about $110 million on the program as of Nov. 30. Federal lawmakers are debating how to extend similar assistance programs nationwide. Tennessee started its program in April and renewed it in August. (Scroll down to see how many children the program served in your county.)

The looming expiration has left child care providers scrambling for ways to make up the funding for virtual learning centers where students can go during online learning. But they hope to keep operations going into 2021.

Shelby County Schools, the largest district in Tennessee, has kept classrooms closed to students all school year and recently delayed a return until early February — leaving a month long gap of child care for working parents.

Brian McLaughlin, the chief operating officer for the YMCA of Memphis & the Mid-South, said he has been in multiple meetings with the state this week in hopes of tapping into Tennessee’s unused dollars from the federal program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. The state has come under scrutiny for stockpiling $741 million rather than spending it to help lift families out of poverty.

“We’re really concerned for our families and the community because these children in our care, a significant percentage of them are from households with lower incomes,” McLaughlin said. “They don’t have flexible jobs. They had no other option.”

The YMCA is serving about 6,000 students at more than 50 virtual learning centers across the city. To meet the demand, McLaughlin said the organization has hired about 500 people to keep student groups small and provide the support they need during virtual learning.

He estimated it would cost $2 million to keep the virtual learning centers running during the month before Memphis classrooms are scheduled to reopen.

But some families want to continue at virtual learning centers, even if classrooms are an option. Keith Blanchard, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Memphis, said staff surveyed parents of the 200 students at their five virtual learning centers. Most said they felt safer at the virtual learning centers because it’s what they’ve known.

Because his organization was “heavily reliant” on the coronavirus relief money, Blanchard said it may dip into reserves and launch a fundraising campaign to keep the centers going.

“I will raise the money somewhere,” he said. “We have committed to continuing for as long as we can.”

Tennessee essential worker child care assistance program participants

COUNTY NUMBER OF CHILDREN
COUNTY NUMBER OF CHILDREN
ANDERSON 376
BEDFORD 551
BENTON 87
BLEDSOE 13
BLOUNT 1,040
BRADLEY 336
CAMPBELL 142
CANNON 44
CARROLL 184
CARTER 102
CHEATHAM 224
CHESTER 81
CLAIBORN 13
CLAY 27
COCKE 86
COFFEE 342
CROCKETT 154
CUMBERLAND 156
DAVIDSON 3,214
DECATUR 16
DEKALB 124
DICKSON 274
DYER 235
FAYETTE 176
FENTRESS 102
FRANKLIN 201
GIBSON 359
GILES 84
GRAINGER 41
GREENE 284
GRUNDY 18
HAMBLEN 284
HAMILTON 2,156
HARDEMAN 71
HARDIN 101
HAWKINS 172
HAYWOOD 73
HENDERSON 250
HENRY 132
HICKMAN 170
HOUSTON 27
HUMPHREYS 49
JACKSON 79
JEFFERSON 154
JOHNSON 13
KNOX 3,826
LAUDERDALE 76
LAWRENCE 282
LEWIS 12
LINCOLN 122
LOUDON 187
MACON 78
MADISON 673
MARION 107
MARSHALL 343
MAURY 620
MCMINN 92
MCNAIRY 48
MEIGS 16
MONROE 73
MONTGOMERY 2,499
MOORE 51
MORGAN 71
OBION 71
OVERTON 181
PERRY 8
PICKETT 9
POLK 20
PUTNAM 1,051
RHEA 134
ROANE 337
ROBERTSO 491
RUTHERFO 2,383
SCOTT 64
SEQUATCHIE 72
SEVIER 540
SHELBY 6,489
SMITH 114
STEWART 89
SULLIVAN 560
SUMNER 1,489
TIPTON 383
TROUSDALE 120
UNICOI 31
UNION 109
VAN BUREN 6
WARREN 180
WASHINGTON 881
WAYNE 49
WEAKLEY 510
WHITE 153
WILLIAMSON 1,756
WILSON 992
TOTAL 41,265
April 15, 2020 to Nov. 30, 2020 Tennessee Department of Human Services

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing the information families and educators need, but this kind of work isn't possible without your help.

Connect with your community

Find upcoming Tennessee events