A new multi-million dollar program is being launched to improve child care centers across the Garden State.

Tara Colton, the executive vice president of economic security for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, said the EDA is moving forward with a $54.5 million Child Care Facilities Improvement Pilot program that will begin this summer.

She said there’s a growing recognition that “there are long standing issues in many child care facilities that need to be addressed, and they’re traditionally not projects that money is available for.”

Colton said since the pandemic began, it’s become clear many child care centers that have razor-thin profit margins are in need of many repairs and upgrades.

“It might be a roof that’s been leaking for months or years. It might be a playground that has wood that is rotting. It could be rooms that don’t have windows that open,” she said.

Who gets how much

She noted each child care center can apply for grants between $50,000 and $200,000.

“We’re going to be paying for the entire cost of these improvements, so it’s not money that will have to come out of their very stretched budgets," Colton said.

Most of the money being used for the program is coming from the federal American Rescue Plan.

It makes a difference

She said there is a lot of research showing the importance of the physical environment for toddlers and young kids when they first begin learning.

“Even things like putting up a wall between two classrooms full of babies and toddlers, changing those acoustics, has been demonstrated to have an impact on childhood learning,” she saud.

Child care centers that take advantage of the program and who enroll low-income children who receive funding through the child care subsidy program, will increase the amount they get paid because they are providing care in higher quality facilities.

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She added having quality, accessible childcare is vital for many New Jersey residents.

It’s not just around going to work, it’s also about being able to go to higher education or career training programs,” she said.

She noted the labor shortage that began to develop last year in New Jersey was driven in part by the lack of accessible childcare facilities.

A complete list of eligible uses for the grant money can be found here.

Applicants may own or lease the space that will be improved and they must currently enroll, or have enrolled in the 12 months prior to the date of application, at least one child receiving support through the New Jersey Department of Human Services Child Care Assistance Program.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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