TORONTO – Ontario is earmarking over $234 million to help child care centres respond to COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford announced Friday.
The announcement drew fire from the NDP, who called on the province to match the sum, which is drawn entirely from funding received from the federal government.
The money will be distributed to the province’s 5,500 licensed child care centres and can be used to cover the costs of measures such as additional cleaning, screening, purchasing PPE, or hiring additional staff.
Responding to questions at a Friday morning press conference, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said centres would also be allowed to use the funds to cover financial losses incurred due to earlier COVID-19 restrictions.
Those include caps on the size of child care cohorts, which have limited centres to maximum groupings of 15 children. That limit will end Sept. 1, when centres will be allowed to return to full capacity for the first time since March, albeit with new COVID-19 restrictions in place.
The funding is drawn from around $7 billion the province received through the $19 billion Safe Restart Agreement between the federal government and the provinces.
The official opposition NDP slammed the government for relying on that federal funding, calling on it to match the contribution dollar-for-dollar.
“The federal contribution to re-opening Ontario’s child care centres is simply not enough to support the thousands of centres across Ontario struggling to reopen safely," said NDP child care critic Dolly Begum in a statement. "Ford's child care announcement failed to address the sector's desperate need for more space, more staff and smaller cohorts, to ensure children and staff are safe."
Ford and Lecce each vowed the safety of children was their top priority, but also emphasized the key role child care will play in the province’s economic recovery from the pandemic in Friday’s remarks.
“As our public health situation improves, we know how crucial childcare is in relation to the reopening of Ontario’s economy,” Lecce said.