Subsidy payments designed to bolster the country’s childcare industry have yet to come online five weeks after creches across the country were closed.
Last week, Katherine Zappone, the children’s minister, informed childcare providers that the new system for Covid-19 supports in the industry would come online from April 14, with those impacted expected to sign up by close of business on the same date.
The department had received a deal of criticism from people within the industry due to the short timeframe — but the department subsequently rowed back on its commitment to launch the new scheme early this week “in order to ensure that there is compatibility with schemes in other sectors”.
“I am fully aware of the difficulties, anxieties, and frustration that delays in establishing this scheme have caused for you,” Ms Zappone said in a letter to providers last Thursday. “I am sorry for this delay which we worked extremely hard to avoid.”
The Department of Children said the delay was attributable to the new scheme complementing "wider measures for businesses in this challenging time". A spokesman added the scheme's publication is "imminent", with a revised sign-up cutoff point of close of business 21 April.
However, it is believed that there may be issues may exist between the Revenue Commissioners and the department regarding their interpretation of the topup part of the scheme.
In the scheme announced on March 25, each childcare worker would be entitled to €350 per week, with the Department topping up any shortfall of an employee’s weekly salary to that amount.
However, given that childcare workers are in general poorly paid, that particular scheme could see some workers receiving more from the Covid-19 childcare scheme than from their regular employment — a situation which could see the Revenue reducing its own payment to bring each worker’s pay cheque in line with its normal amount.
Marian Quinn, chair of the Association of Childhood Professionals, said that the situation is further complicated by the fact that childcare workers stand to receive more from the State’s €350 per week pandemic unemployment payment than they would do from the Department’s own scheme.
Revenue declined to comment on the matter, stating that the regulation of, and payment schemes applicable to, the childcare sector “are not matters for Revenue”.
It is also unclear whether or not the various subsidy schemes which the Department of Children has operated prior to the Covid-19 crisis have officially ceased.
Should those schemes be suspended, which is expected, while a creche’s staff will be almost fully paid throughout the crisis, the business itself will have just 15% of those staff costs provided in order to manage its overheads — which would see businesses with large mortgages for example in dire financial straits.
Meanwhile, union SIPTU has demanded that the Government should “get to grips with” the childcare crisis facing healthcare and other essential workers due to the coronavirus crisis.
The trade union’s health division organiser, Paul Bell, said many of its members are “now reporting that the stress of working in an environment that deals with life and death on a daily basis is being compounded with the uncertainty of not having the proper support to take care of their children.”