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EDMONTON – Alberta’s opposition says the province will need to draw on excess budget to allow childcare operators to keep their doors open during the pandemic.

NDP critic Rakhi Pancholi estimates the Children’s Services Department has about $ 70 million in unspent funds as fewer subsidies go to care centers due to reduced capacity due to COVID-19.

Pancholi says money needs to be spent now as many operators are in serious financial trouble and may have to shut down if other COVID-19 support programs expire.

“I’ve heard of countless childcare programs that are about to close,” said Pancholi, accompanied by some daycare operators, at a press conference on Monday.

She said operators are still feeling the hardship as parents are reluctant to return children to care centers or either work from home or cannot afford care.

“Childcare providers are still experiencing the effects of the pandemic, but now without the support that came from the pandemic,” Pancholi said.

Heather Ratsoy, an Edmonton daycare center that was with the NDP at the press conference, said the numbers in her downtown area had plummeted due to shops closing or employees working from home.

“We are unable to cover our monthly expenses such as rent, salaries, etc.,” said Ratsoy.

“(We) urgently need financial help from the province.”

Child Services Minister Rebecca Schulz was not available for an interview, but her office said in a statement: “We are seeing school enrollment rising, which means more parents will have access to the grant programs and spending costs will rise.

“And with just under five months left in the financial year, it is premature to comment on unused funds.”

Schulz also announced that $ 15 million in bilateral federal government childcare funds will be used to support childcare workers through COVID-19.

“These funds will help strengthen childcare programs that support children and their families in this province on a daily basis,” Schulz said in a press release.

The government said the $ 15 million will be used “for COVID-19 relief to continue helping operators as soon as possible.”

It also announced that $ 19 million of previously announced federal funding has now been allocated to help attract and retain daycare staff.

Pancholi called the announcement an ineffective last-minute distraction as bilateral money is tied to rules that cannot handle the immediate crisis.

“The UCP hastily announced the existing federal funds from the long-standing bilateral agreement, most of which the providers cannot use to pay operating costs such as rent or wages,” said Pancholi.

She again urged Schulz to strike a deal with the federal government over their $ 10 billion per day childcare initiative.

Ottawa announced in the spring a $ 30 billion five-year plan to partner with provinces, territories and indigenous communities for universal childcare – the cornerstone of a plan to help families and boost the economy.

The plan provides an average reduction in fees of 50 percent by next year and $ 10 a day in five years.

Most of the provinces and the Yukon have signed, but Alberta and Ontario remain among the objectors.

Schulz said Alberta is seeking a deal that recognizes the high percentage of for-profit childcare centers in the province and respects the variety of childcare choices.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 8, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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