The state Department of Human Services has announced licensed child care centers and registered family child care providers, who were operational by Thursday at the latest, will be able to claim part of a $50 million grant package to cover specific COVID-19 expenses.

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"Eligible expenses include things like purchasing of PPE, enhancing cleaning and sanitation, paying for additional staffing costs," DHS Deputy Commissioner Elisa Neira said.

This is an expansion of what Neira said was originally a $20 million grant program, with the Department of Children and Families as the licensing agency, but it was clear more money was necessary with thousands of facilities enacting or considering reopening protocols.

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Grant amounts may range from $8,000 to $17,000 for a child care center depending on its capacity, and up to $2,500 for registered providers, providing the money is spent by Dec. 30.

Costs incurred in September can be covered retroactively under the plan.

"There's no per se deadline, but it is an application process that will be open until the funds are exhausted," Neira said.

Child care providers have had to quickly adapt to new health and safety guidelines brought on by the pandemic, as Neira explained their operations looked much different before COVID-19 struck New Jersey.

So, too, did families' usage of the services available to them. Initially only the children of emergency and essential workers needed continued child care, but that need has drastically expanded as other parents return to their offices.

"Operating in this environment is just costing providers more than normal times," Neira said. "Certainly this has posed a great challenge, not only to the child care industry community, but also families, and working families, in New Jersey."

Neira said most providers are already familiar with the New Jersey Child Care Information System from previous grant applications, and this latest allotment is being made available at childcarenj.gov.

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