The program aims to create 800-1,000 additional childcare spaces for children up to four years old.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has unveiled a new early childhood program called Early Raising Educational Access for Children in Harris County ( REACH )
Applications for the program are now being accepted, and multiple children from the same family can be eligible. Qualified children can expect to be placed in a childcare facility as early as July.
Funding for the $26 million program comes from The American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion initiative signed by President Joe Biden in 2022. The funding will be available for three years. Families must meet certain requirements to be eligible, such as demonstrating financial need, living in an area of high need, or receiving benefits like WIC, SNAP, TANF, free or reduced lunch, or SSI income.
Applicants will receive eligibility confirmation within two weeks and will be assigned an eligibility specialist to help them find a suitable childcare center. Both children and childcare centers can apply for the program. Hidalgo emphasized that it operates on a first-come, first-served basis.
Hidalgo believes it will increase the availability of high-quality childcare by 10%
The program aims to address the existing inequities in Harris County regarding early care and education by increasing the number of high-quality classrooms and targeting childcare deserts. Access to quality childcare is crucial for parents seeking to reenter the workforce and achieve financial stability. The program will prioritize the retention of care providers by ensuring they receive a minimum wage of $15 per hour. The speakers also highlighted the long-term benefits of early childhood programs, including higher employment rates, reduced likelihood of contact with the criminal justice system, and improved graduation rates and academic performance.
Efforts have been made to reach underrepresented communities by providing accessible information in multiple languages and through online and phone platforms. Data analysis on existing childcare facilities and the locations of low-income parents has been conducted for outreach purposes. Provider and parent meetings have been organized to discuss the program and engage with those who stand to benefit the most.