SF Pledges $1 Million in Grants for Small Child Care Providers

San Francisco is pledging $1 million in grants to small child care businesses in the city. (iStock)

Esperanza Estrada has been operating Estrada's Family Preschool in San Francisco's Excelsior District for nearly 18 years, serving small groups of children from primarily low-income backgrounds.

But since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and businesses like hers were forced to shut down, Estrada said things have been tough.

"It's been really difficult for me to survive because I can't have the kids back or enroll new children because of the order," Estrada, 56, said.

With her business unable to operate due to health concerns, Estrada said she began looking for financial support through grants and loans. But because she operates such a small business, she found that getting the money wasn't exactly a straightforward process.

"Sometimes with the loans and grants, the qualifications are very high. And we sometimes don't count as businesses in the city because we are very, very small," she said.

Estrada said she was able to get some support in the form of a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, but is concerned about her ability to pay it back or fulfill the requirements necessary to have the loan forgiven. She said she sometimes has trouble sleeping at night and stays up worrying about paying her mortgage or just buying food.

"Especially because I'm an immigrant, woman of color," Estrada said. "Being that kind of person, it's even more difficult for us to find help and resources."

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Now, the city of San Francisco is stepping in to help child care providers like Estrada make ends meet. A new program will use $1 million from the Give2SF COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to provide grants to up to 150 family child care educators in the city — with a particular focus on ones that serve low-income households.

San Francisco Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who worked with Mayor London Breed's office to develop the program, said many city residents rely on these businesses to provide care. And they're even more important as the city relaxes its shelter-in-place order and people return to work.

"They're accessible, they're easy, they're run by people the families know," Safaí explained. "Without these options, a lot of people aren't going to be able to go back to work."

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According to city officials, San Francisco currently has about 600 licensed family child care homes, but only a certain group falls under the necessary criteria to take part in this new program. Those criteria include enrolling low-income children in their programs and receiving a state "star rating" at a level that enables participation in San Francisco's Early Learning Scholarship and Preschool for All programs.

"Those providers are going to be eligible for a grant anywhere from up to from $5,000 to up to $10,000, depending on the size of their their family child care license," said Ingrid Mezquita, director of San Francisco's Office of Early Care and Education.

While her business has been closed, Estrada has been connecting online with the kids in her program, doing story time and teaching three times a week. She says the kids want to come back, and they sometimes walk by her house with their parents to wave to her or say hi, from a safe distance.

While Estrada said she misses the kids, she knows most of them will soon age out of her program and she'll have to find new kids to enroll. These new funds from the city can help keep her business afloat in the meantime, she said.

"We're going to be ready to open doors again for the families and the children, especially with low-income families," Estrada said. "They need to feel secure that the children are going to be OK in places, and that they can go to work and make the city work again."