“As a legislative body, we have a duty to ensure that these funds are used efficiently and effectively,” a pamphlet at the House Democratic Caucus meeting said.

On Thursday, the Mississippi House Democratic Caucus held a hearing to discuss federal funding distributed to the state to support childcare stabilization.

Since the start of the pandemic, the state of Mississippi has received hundreds of millions of dollars primarily provided to stabilize and sustain the childcare sector during uncertain times.

“As a legislative body, we have a duty to ensure that these funds are used efficiently and effectively,” a pamphlet handed out at the hearing stated. “The child care sector largely consists of small businesses run by Black women. As a member of the legislative Black caucus, we have an additional interest in representing the interests of our constituents.”

These funds have been controlled by the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS), which has been involved in a scandal regarding Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds that were misused and stolen from Mississippi families living below the poverty line.

Lawmakers held this hearing to learn more about these issues.

“We believe it is necessary to ask for transparency so that we can provide proper legislative oversight,” the pamphlet continued.

Childcare representatives and advocates were in attendance and gave presentations, including:

  • Dr. Carol Burnett, Executive Director of the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative
  • Dr. LaTasha Hadley, CEO of Loving Hands Educational Services
  • Delores Suel, President of the Child Care Directors Network Alliance and Child Care Provider

Some the concerns centered around lack of transparency on the status of spending federal funds, feedback from constituents on lack of clear guidance, and feedback from constituents on American Rescue Plan (ARP) stabilization funds spending deadlines.

MDHS has received Child Care Development Discretionary Funds (CCDF), American Rescue Plan Stabilization Funds, and funds from the Consolidated Appropriations Act. The House Democratic Caucus is asking for a report on the status of each of these funds, specifically: the total amount received, the total amount expended, and a list of descriptions for each expenditure made. They also asked for a report on any other substantial federal funding that the Department has received to support childcare providers and families in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawmakers said that they have received several concerns regarding the lack of guidance received for the reporting and applying for ARP stabilization funds or Child Care Strong (CCS) grants.

“We are asking the department to describe its mechanism for providing individualized guidance to providers, so that they can confidently spend their awarded funds on their small businesses,” the handout stated. “Additionally, we are asking for justification from MDHS to explain why more technical assistance efforts are not in place for providers on tracking and reporting funds.”

The group said a number of providers and constituents have reached out to the lawmakers concerning the spending window that has been implemented by MDHS. ARP obligates states to distribute ARPA  stabilization funds by September 30, 2022 and liquidate all funds by September 30, 2023.

“We are asking for the department to provide its justification for this discrepancy between the state and federal spending deadlines,” the pamphlet stated.

CCS grants are administered by MDHS’s Division of Early Childhood Care Department and are offered to child care providers as part of the ARP. Providers can use these funds for the following: 

  • Staff costs
  • Mortgage/rent, utilities, facility maintenance and improvements, or insurance.
  • Personal protective equipment, cleaning and sanitation supplies, services, or training/professional development related to health and safety practices
  • Purchase of or updates to equipment and supplies
  • Goods and services necessary to maintain or resume child care services
  • Mental health supports for children and employees

State Rep. Robert Johnson, the Mississippi House Democratic Minority Leader, said following the hearing that this meeting was held because some childcare providers expressed concerns regarding the federal funding. Rep. Johnson also discussed what will happen going forward.

State Rep. John Hines (D) said that there was some confusion regarding how the money could be spent, what was allowed or not allowed. By having this hearing, Hines said, people can better understand what was going on, what was taking place, and how they should resolve some of the issues.