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Erica Sullivan, an early childhood clinician with the Tennyson Center for Children, prepares supplies in her office before a parenting skills session with the mother of a three-year-old boy. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

As Colorado’s early childhood leaders discuss how to spend a new $41 million pot of federal coronavirus relief money, there are lots of unsettled questions about who needs the money most. 

Some advocates like the idea of a simple grant program that will fast-track funds to child care providers who need urgent help with rent or other expenses. Some say they want extra consideration for providers in child care deserts — communities where there’s already a critical shortage of licensed child care slots. Others say the state must ensure that private providers serving middle-class families get some of the funds. 

One thing everyone agrees on is that $41 million, no matter how it’s divvied up, won’t get the job done. More public money — probably from the federal government given the state’s grim budget forecast — will be needed to resuscitate an industry that was already struggling to stay afloat even before the pandemic hit. 

“I would agree that $41 million will not go very far if we don’t maximize all the other sources and supports for small businesses,” said Erin Mewhinney, director of the state’s Division of Early Care and Learning at the Colorado Department of Human Services. 

Many child care providers are eligible for forgivable loans and other streams of federal, state and private money for coronavirus relief, but navigating the myriad requirements can be tricky. 

The $41 million coming to Colorado’s early childhood sector is part of a $3.5 billion stream earmarked for early childhood in the CARES Act passed by Congress in late March. The amount coming to states varies, with Wyoming slated to get an estimated $4 million and California around $339 million.