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Ontario municipal staff say $85.5M cut risks success of $10-a-day child-care program

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce waits for his introduction before speaking to the media at an Etobicoke library in Toronto on Sunday, April 16, 2023. The municipal staff who administer the child-care system across Ontario are telling Lecce that an $85.5-million cut to their budgets puts the success of the $10-a-day program at risk. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — The municipal staff who administer the child-care system across Ontario are telling Education Minister Stephen Lecce that an $85.5-million cut to their budgets puts the success of the $10-a-day program at risk.

The Ontario Municipal Social Services Association said in a letter to the minister that the national program, which Ontario signed onto in 2022, has meant a significant amount of additional work for municipal child-care administrators and now is not the time to cut their funding.

"Reductions in administrative funding will result in service delays and additional costs to municipalities," president Henry Wall and executive director Doug Ball wrote. 

"It puts at risk successful and full implementation which will have a negative impact on children and their families."

Ontario is the only province with a mandated role for municipalities in delivering child care and the system managers at municipalities have a central role in planning, funding and administering child-care services.

The $10-a-day program, which uses federal money to reduce fees for parents, has seen the municipal staff implement the new system that comes with more licensing, monitoring, regulatory work, developing a new application process, and implementing multiple versions of guidelines issued by the province.

"The ability to implement the new policies and programs is contingent upon corresponding administration," the association wrote.

"As the ministry has seen in recent months, the sector needs strong municipal service managers who will be able to provide supports to operators through this significant transitional phase, who will hold operators accountable for agreed upon targets and remove the politics from the real work that needs to be done in the community and for the families that are counting on the province and municipalities to get this right."

The Ontario government announced in 2019 that instead of the province funding the administration of the child-care system, it was requiring municipalities to pay 50 per cent of that cost.

The province has since provided $220 million in transitional funding over several years, but that is now ending, resulting in an $85.5 million cut to municipal budgets. 

The government noted that out of $2.1 billion in funding for the $10-a-day program, most of which is going toward fee reductions and workforce compensation, $28 million is going toward administration.

"We are focused on reducing fees and increasing access to spaces for working parents, not increasing the size of back office administration," a spokesperson for Lecce wrote in a statement.

"Municipalities had ample notice and we expected them to realign their systems to ensure they can deliver affordable childcare for families."

Child-care operators in Ontario and other provinces have been warning that they may have to pull out of the program because the funding levels are not meeting the actual costs they are paying to deliver their services, particularly as inflation quickly drives up their expenses.

In response, the federal government has said provinces and territories had their "eyes wide open" when they signed on to the program and they must now make it work.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2024.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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