Since the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic a range of financial and other supports have been available to the Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School-Age Childcare (SAC) to support them to remain operational and providing services to children.
Since August 2020, registered ELC and SAC employers have been eligible to access the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) without having to demonstrate the 30% reduction in turnover required of other employers. EWSS has been a key component of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis. It is an economy-wide scheme that operates across all sectors. The special arrangement for registered ELC and SAC services to be exempted from the turnover test has made substantial financial supports available to the sector since August 2020.
For over a year, between October 2020 and November 2021, the EWSS has been paid at enhanced rates. This amounts to an investment of €34 million per month in the sector and is estimated to cover, on average, 80% staff costs and 50% operating costs.
The EWSS is due to revert to standard rates between December 2021 and February 2022. This amounts to an investment of €22 million per month in the sector and is estimated to cover, on average, 50% staff costs and 38% operating costs.
For March and April 2022 a new flat rate for the EWSS (€100) will apply. This amounts to an investment of €11 million per month in the sector and is estimated to cover, on average, 25% staff costs and 11% operating costs.
With the additional cost of play-pods and other public health measures estimated to be €12 million per month, the EWSS at enhanced and standard rates exceeds what is required by the sector to adhere to public health guidance. The EWSS at flat rates is just marginally below the cost of play-pods.
My Department also oversees a Case Management process through which support can be provided to ELC and SAC services experiencing difficulties. Pobal co-ordinate the overall case management process with the City and County Childcare Committees (CCC) administering on-the-ground case management assistance. This includes specialised advice and support appropriate to individual circumstances.
Financial supports may also be accessed through the Case Management process are available for services presenting with sustainability issues following a financial assessment by Pobal. The COVID-19 Impact Support funding strand is available to both Community and Private services. The CCC is the first point of contact for any service in difficulty and seeking support.
Information on service closures and new services registered is collated by the Tusla Early Years Inspectorate who maintain the register of services. Each year there are services that close and new services open. Current data shows that the number of closures and the numbers of new services are down slightly when compared with the same period last year. Overall, there is no significant variation in the number of services operating in 2021 when compared with 2020.
Looking ahead to 2022, as I announced on Budget Day, a Transition Fund will be available for providers in the sector following the cessation of EWSS from May 2022 until the introduction of the new Core Funding in September 2022. €37 million has been allocated for this fund.
From September 2022, a new Core Funding stream will operate. €69 million has been allocated to this funding stream in 2022, equivalent to €207 million full year costs. Core Funding constitutes a significant and strategic new approach to funding the sector in the longer term to support quality, affordability, inclusion and sustainability.