An estimated 465 Grand County children under the age of six are in need of childcare, according to a March 2020 report from the Department of Workforce Services which identified Grand County as having the highest need for childcare among Utah counties.
Keri Allred, executive director of Head Start’s Rural Utah Child Development in Southeast Utah, gave a presentation to the Moab City Council during their regular meeting on Sept. 8 regarding their bid for the federal Early Head Start Expansion Grant.
“Head Start is a comprehensive service that is not just early childhood education, but it also will pay for things that parents cannot afford, like dental care, glasses, hearing aids,” said Allred, who added speech therapy and mental health care to the list of services provided.
“One of the things that’s very valuable about the Early Head Start model is that it charges the parents nothing—we pay for all of the food, diapers, wipes, everything. The parent pays nothing as long as they’re eligible,” said Allred.
Eligibility for the program is based on federal poverty levels, Allred noted, which can be a problem in the Moab area where the cost of living is high.
“What I can see in your community is if you have a two-parent family who both work—they will not be income eligible, but they may very well be in poverty,” she said.
However, she noted that once a family is deemed eligible, they do not have to reapply as long as enrolled children are within the age limits of the program.
Allred said that the group is seeking federal funding to expand the program in the region. The grant application is due later this month; Allred expects they will find out if they were awarded the grant early next year. The funds are scheduled for distribution in March of 2021.
The federal grant has about $2.3 million available; the Southeast Utah service district, which includes Uintah, Carbon, Emery, Grand and Sevier Countics, is asking for between $750,000 and $800,000. That money would go toward education and childcare, but also toward supplies and nutrition.
“The beautiful thing about this federal money is that we can get these parents who cannot work, get their child in this eight-hour day care, and then they go and get a job or go to school and improve the community that way,” said Allred. “We have a real opportunity to bring families into the workforce.”
In addition to helping working families with children, Allred said the expanded program would bring 10 jobs to the Moab community.
“We’re specifically asking for higher wages in Moab because of the higher wage scale,” Allred added of those jobs.
The grant requires a 20% in-kind match from communities where the funds are awarded. Those matches can be in the form of cash donations, as well as the use of building space or even hours parents spend educating their children.
“If you count with them, if you take them to the store after hours and talk about colors, that counts,” Allred said.
Councilmembers discussed the possibility of offering the Moab Scout House, which is dedicated to use by scouting troops, as potential childcare space that would count toward that in-kind match. Councilmember Karen Guzman-Newton has been working with Head Start staff to find community spaces that could be used towards the program; she thinks an arrangement could be worked out with Scout troops on use of the space.
“There’s an opportunity to have this property that the community owns used for a larger community benefit, and it could also still be used for the Scouts,” she said.
Allred commended the Moab community on their passion and spirit of unity.
“I have never met with another community that has as many different stakeholders, from every different walk, who are just as invested and passionate about getting this childcare and improving your community,” she said. “If that doesn’t win [the grant], I don’t know what will.”
Moab City Council meetings are held on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. For agendas and current meeting policies, go to www.moabcity.org/151/City-Council
Early education program hopes to expand in region
“I have never met with another community that has as many different stakeholders, from every different walk, who are just as invested and passionate about getting this childcare and improving your community.”
– Keri Allred