Manassas officials are looking to make child care more affordable for working parents as schooling continues online.
Last week, the city began accepting applications from parents facing financial hardship for up to $1,200 for each school-aged child to help offset the cost for day-care or in-home supervision, with money from the city funded through the CARES Act.
Michele Gehr, director of the city’s social services agency, said she doesn’t expect demand to be too high given the late start date for the program. By last week, she said, most parents had already made plans for child care. But some, she’d heard, were still scrambling to find supervision, having misunderstood communications from the school district about virtual learning.
“We had some parents contact us that didn’t understand that virtual meant the kids would be home alone possibly,” Gehr said. “They thought the kids would be going virtually at school.”
According to Gehr, $1,200 a month seems to be around the going rate for child-care services in the Manassas area, but the amount a family receives will depend on need. In order to qualify for any assistance, parents or caregivers must be below the city's median household income of $78,462. In addition, a family must have at least one child between the ages of 5 and 14 enrolled in Manassas City Public Schools and show proof of employment.
- How to apply: Visit www.manassascity.org, scroll down, and click on the application below the “Assistance with Child Care” banner
Parents will also need to show a valid contract with a child care provider of some sort, and money will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
Gehr said the idea for the program, the only of its kind in the area, came from discussions with the city council about the challenges working parents were facing in supervising children while they attend school online. According to teachers and parents, many families have been relying on older children to monitor younger siblings or have arranged supervision with other family members in the area.
“For those people who were waiting, we just want to provide some relief,” Gehr said.
A parent shouldn’t have to choose between staying home and returning to work because their child will be unaccompanied.”
In addition to child care for working parents, the city is also starting a program for those who’ve lost their jobs and want to make a career change. Again with CARES Act money, the city’s Department of Economic Development is offering free licensing programs with Northern Virginia Community College and SkillSource in computer skills, healthcare and dental skills, professional services and English-language training.
Virginia’s unemployment rate has fallen since the height of pandemic-related shutdowns earlier this year but still sits at 8%, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report. Even if the pandemic continues to affect schools and businesses, CARES Act money for municipalities such as Manassas will expire at the end of the year.
“We are kind of trying to come at it from all angles to help our residents take that next step to maintain to do what they have to do to make sure that their families are taken care of,” said City Councilperson Michelle Davis-Younger. “And this is all CARES money, which is great. But the worry is what happens at the end of December when it’s gone?”