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B.C. to unveil affordable child care plan in throne speech

VICTORIA – B.C.’s new affordable child care plan, which is expected to be announced in today’s government throne speech, is getting a $153-million infusion from the federal government to create new spaces that first focus on infant and toddlers from low-income and vulnerable families.

The money, outlined in a new funding agreement between Ottawa and B.C., sets aside specific amounts, targets, and spaces based on priority.

It offers an early glimpse at some aspects of the 10-year universal child care program the B.C. NDP government is expected to unveil later today in its speech from the throne. However, once B.C. adds its own funds in next week’s budget, the scope of the program will expand dramatically and is expected to include savings for most British Columbians and not just low-income residents.

The federal money will allow B.C. to start this year reducing the cost of child care spaces for children up to three years old for families that earn under $51,000 a year.

“All families..

VICTORIA – B.C.’s new affordable child care plan, which is expected to be announced in today’s government throne speech, is getting a $153-million infusion from the federal government to create new spaces that first focus on infant and toddlers from low-income and vulnerable families.

The money, outlined in a new funding agreement between Ottawa and B.C., sets aside specific amounts, targets, and spaces based on priority.

It offers an early glimpse at some aspects of the 10-year universal child care program the B.C. NDP government is expected to unveil later today in its speech from the throne. However, once B.C. adds its own funds in next week’s budget, the scope of the program will expand dramatically and is expected to include savings for most British Columbians and not just low-income residents.

The federal money will allow B.C. to start this year reducing the cost of child care spaces for children up to three years old for families that earn under $51,000 a year.

“All families accessing these spaces would have significantly reduced fees and the most financially vulnerable families will receive the greatest benefit,” reads the deal.

“For example, families earning up to $51,000 gross per year would have the lowest costs while those earning more than $51,000 gross per year would be able to access infant/toddler spaces at a significantly reduced cost, paying only approximately 20 per cent of median child care fees for group infant/toddler care in BC.

“While all families will have access, to ensure equitable access, approximately half of the spaces at each facility will be reserved for families earning up to $51,000 gross per year.”

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Lt-Gov. Judith Guichon arrives to deliver a speech from the throne at the Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday February 13, 2018.

Ottawa’s money includes $51 million this current 2017/18 fiscal year for early learning care, indigenous child care, children with special needs and young parent programs, which will create 1,370 licensed spaces. As well, there is $51 million in the upcoming 2018/19 year and $51 million the following year.

The federal dollars alone will help B.C. deliver free child care to at least 893 children, with reduced costs for at least 1,786 kids. There are only enough current licensed child care spaces in the province to accommodate 22 per cent of children aged zero to five in the province, with the median cost of a space more than $780 a month.

As well, B.C. will create bursaries for students seeking to train to become early childhood educators, and help them pay for travel, child care, books and other expenses.

B.C. will add in its own influx of cash in next week’s provincial budget to stretch the program further. The NDP estimated during the election it would cost $280 million in the first year of the child care program, $400 million in 2019/20 and almost $1.5 billion by the time the program is fully operational within 10 years.

The first focus will be on children aged zero to three years, where the shortage of child care spaces is most acute, according to the agreement. That includes a specific focus on aboriginal communities, where families are more likely to face barriers to accessible child care and live in economically vulnerable situations.

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“Given the high unmet need for infant/toddler care in B.C., the province will provide a one-time targeted intake to increase the physical number of licensed infant/toddler child care spaces,” reads the deal.

That will come in the form of provincial grants to provide capital funding of up to $1 million per project to non-profit organizations, municipalities, universities, hospitals, colleges or schools to create new spaces.

“The capital grants for the infant/toddler programs will be provided on a cost-share basis for the creation of new infant/toddler child care spaces and will leverage other community funding, while contributing approximately 67 per cent of the actual capital costs,” reads the agreement. “Organizations in receipt of the funding will be required to cover the remaining costs of the capital expenditure to create the spaces.”

The grant money will be “prioritized for more vulnerable or underserved communities and aim to achieve a balance across urban and rural and different regions of the province.”

B.C. will start in 2018/19 decreasing child care fees for infants and toddlers aged up to three years old.

“B.C. will test the introduction of universal child care by providing two years of increased operational support for new Early Care and Learning Prototype Sites, beginning with infant/toddler spaces,” reads the deal. That operational funding will reduce the cost of the spaces.

“The operators that are selected for this funding will be representative across the province in both urban and rural settings so that the prototype centres can test the model in a representative range of communities in BC and will be prioritized for more vulnerable or underserved communities.”

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B.C. will also deliver a one-time funding boost to enhance training for early childhood educators, which will include expanded bursaries and a pilot program to help pay for expenses on training and substitute staff who need to attend courses.

The province will also direct new money, including federal dollars, into the Aboriginal Head Start programs, to implement full-day care in some communities.

For special needs children, B.C. is aiming to eliminate the current wait list within three years by adding $10 million in funding for 1,428 children, according to the deal.

rshaw@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robshaw_vansun

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