The Inspire Early Learning Center announced Tuesday it would be immediately suspending operations, leaving many families with young children scrambling. Within hours, non-profit group NeighborhoodImpact stepped in to temporarily keep the doors open.
The Bend Chamber said Wednesday that added stress on the local system, like this closure, happens too often. It says lack of reliable care is one of the biggest barriers for local businesses trying to increase their workforce.
Childcare is an industry with tight margins and high operating costs. The Chamber says it is actively seeking additional funding to make the formula work.
“Every time you lose a childcare facility in your community, it’s tough. It not only affects the families that are taking their children, affects the children,” Bend Chamber CEO Katy Brooks said. “There’s also a ripple effect throughout the community since there aren’t any options to fill in. So, if one facility goes out of business, we don’t have the capacity in Central Oregon to backfill.”
Central Oregon is classified as a childcare desert. Brooks hears from business owners often about the struggle of trying to expand a workforce in that environment.
“There are many businesses in Central Oregon who would love to add to their labor force, one of the barriers to that is the availability of childcare,” she said.
Central Oregon has been underserved for a long time, but Brooks says there isn’t an easy fix without additional funds.
“The bottom line is it is very expensive to operate a quality childcare facility and parents can’t afford the high price tag,” she said.
Brooks has had ongoing discussions with Salem and other federal funding sources.
“This is not the first time we’re going to see this kind of situation unless we figure out how to close those funding gaps,” she said.
During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government gave providers money to bridge the gap by subsidizing childcare providers through the pandemic.
That money, currently being received by some facilities in Central Oregon is set to expire at the end of September.