WCCA: Paperwork issue costing Washington child care workers money

The Washington Childcare Centers Association (WCCA) is calling the Department of Children, Youth, and Families' (DCYF) Workforce Retention Grant a "debacle." 

In September, DCYF launched a grant to "provide one-time retention payments for on-site workers in eligible roles at all DCYF-licensed or certified family home providers and child care centers." 

DCYF was allotted approximately $10 million in Federal American Rescue Plan Act Funds that would be used to fund the Workforce Retention Grant. The idea was to pay about $700 for each worker who stayed on the job to help with the issue of understaffed childcare centers.

However, a paperwork issue with the grant application form has forced some childcare providers to return partial grant payments or pay the difference out-of-pocket as only some of those in the workforce ended up qualifying.  

The issue apparently stemmed from a check box on MERIT, the state's workforce registry of certified early learning professionals.

While applying for the grant, checking the box would let DCYF know that the worker in question was a ‘confirmed’ current employee. However, childcare operators said they were not aware of how important that box was to check in order to get the grant to go through. 

One childcare facility said in a YouTube conversation, "our licensor was on site with us, reviewing MERIT with us, never mentioned that (check the box) to us."

Tonya Martinez, the vice president of operations of Ages In Stages, said she’s used to doing paperwork but says this process was almost set up to fail.

"This grant was intended for the employees, but the employees had no control whether or not their box was checked or not," Martinez said. "And for me, they sent the email emphasizing that they [childcare employees] must be confirmed, so they obviously knew that with as many providers that missed out on some of this, that they weren’t cleared enough."

With the check box system, providers are saying not all qualified employees are getting the money. 

"The problem here is that when I only have half of my staff getting a bonus and half of them not getting a bonus, it’s actually much more demoralizing. And so as an organization, we have to figure out how to scrounge up that extra $10,000 and all because a little-noticed box on the application wasn’t being checked off," said Jamie Desmul, the director of early learning at Whatcom Family YMCA. 

FOX 13 reached out to DCYF for an explanation of what went wrong for so many applicants, and the agency said: 

"The requirement to keep staff records up-to-date in the professional workforce registry, MERIT, is not new, nor is it specific to the Workforce Retention Grant. The process is long-standing, and keeping records up-to-date is a licensing requirement in law…" 

DCYF points out that it was able to disperse $13 million in retention grants.

With the grant window now closed, it’s unclear whether more workers will get the money they were told they didn't qualify for. 

The Washington Association of Childcare Centers is looking to go to lawmakers and the Governor for a potential legislative fix in the new session.