At Tuesday’s meeting, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors approved a professional services agreement with the Arcata Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) to administer nearly $5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding that will go toward supporting the local childcare industry.
The massive windfall, which comes to the county via a federal economic impact grant program, will allow local childcare providers to take advantage of a host of benefits, including childcare retention bonuses, employee hiring bonuses, loan forgiveness, subsidies and business support.
Deputy County Administrative Officer Sean Quincey said the concept for program emerged from research that the county’s Economic Development Division conducted with the local business community. These business leaders identified three priority areas to support economic success: childcare, housing and broadband.
People involved in the local childcare industry also helped to develop the program, identifying factors needed to help stabilize the local childcare system, which has been ravaged by the COVID pandemic and various economic factors. The number of childcare providers in Humboldt County dwindled dramatically during the pandemic, causing many parents to drop out of the workforce, according to industry workers.
Quincey passionately thanked the board for its efforts.
“This is one of the items that I have been most honored to work on in my career here at the county and I think your board should be applauded for the work that you are doing here in adopting this program,” he said.
Mary Ann Hansen, executive director of First Five Humboldt, also thanked the board.
“By taking this action today, your board is recognizing that children and families are core to Humboldt’s health,” Hansen said. She added that the board was “listening and responding strongly to the priorities of Humboldt’s business community.”
The program should be able to address the needs of families across the county, in part by building up the many informal childcare arrangements families have made, especially in more rural, outlying areas, Hansen said.
Susan Seaman, who works as program director of AEDC in addition to serving as mayor of Eureka, explained a bit about the organization and how the program will work. AEDC is a community development financial institution that oversees about $30 million, including money from the county’s Headwaters Fund and $5.5 million in its own portfolio.
Seaman recounted the story of a former mill worker with a kid at home and another on the way. He found that it was cheaper to stay home and care for his kid than to deal with full-time childcare.
“The biggest issue we have with employers is finding the local workforce,” Seaman said. “So access to child care is such an important part of that puzzle.”
When the county approached AEDC to see if the organization would be willing to administer these ARPA funds, Seaman and others in the agency asked about focusing a significant amount of the investment on stabilizing and revitalizing local childcare providers, she said. “And the reason is because the funds will be distributed through the entire region, from the most rural communities to the city center in Eureka.”
Kerry Venegas, executive director of Changing Tides Family Services, said she’s incredibly proud of Humboldt County.
“And I’ll tell you what,” she said. “Our proposal is something that other counties are paying attention to, because they haven’t yet taken this important step and they want to know how and why our county is leading the way and copy and replicate it.”
The professional services agreement with AEDC will allow the agency to distribute up to $4,856,500 between now and the end of 2026.