COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — Over the weekend, federal relief funding that was allocated to stabilize the childcare sector nationwide expired.

Officials say South Carolina received more than $954 million for this during the pandemic. The infusion of federal aid was a lifeline for childcare providers struggling to navigate the pandemic.

According to the state Department of Social Services (DSS), approximately $700 million of these funds has already been disbursed through grants to stabilize childcare providers. These grants were established to alleviate the financial strain experienced by childcare facilities. The money could be used to increase salaries for staff members and keep tuition rates low.

Officials say more than 1,900 providers in South Carolina have applied for and received grants.

The state has until next September to allocate the rest of the money they have on hand. Connelly-Anne Ragley, Director of Communications & External Affairs at DSS said, “DSS has plans to spend every single penny that is obligated and sent for child care. We will continue to do that over the next 12 months, continuing our grants that we have made available to child care providers.”

For working parents, childcare scholarships remain available in South Carolina. Starting this month, eligibility for childcare scholarships was reduced due to new federal rules for the program.

Previously, these scholarships were available to families within 300% of the federal poverty level. The eligibility threshold has been reduced to 85% of the state median income. According to state officials this means a family of four with a household income of up to about $76,000 would remain eligible for this financial assistance.

Ragley said existing recipients that may not meet eligibility will continue to receive these scholarships for the full 52-weeks they were already approved for.

Looking ahead, the DSS has set its sights on further improvements. Ragley said in their upcoming budget request, they intend to address the gap left by families who are no longer eligible under the new federal rules for the childcare scholarship program.

Last week, House Speaker Murrell Smith and Senate President Thomas Alexander recently announced the formation of a special joint committee. This committee is tasked with examining the affordability and accessibility of childcare, with a particular focus on the workforce in South Carolina.