Exposure to lead contamination in paint or drinking water has long worried health experts, particularly as it affects young children, but a new pilot pro
gram offered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) could represent a key step forward.
Drawing on an appropriation of $54.5 million from the federal American Rescue Plan authorized in July, 2021 (P.L. 2021, c.144) and a related state appropriation of $4.5 million, phase one of NJEDA’s Child Care Facilities Improvement Pilot Program will provide at least $15 million in “full cost” grants (i.e., no match required) ranging from $50,000 to $200,000 for physical improvements to upgrade licensed child care centers and family child care homes. Prevention of exposure to lead paint and lead in drinking water is just one of several eligible costs, however. Improvements can also include energy efficient windows; additional classroom space; new playground equipment; flooring or roofing upgrades; and remediating other environmental hazards, such as mold (See https://www.njeda.com/child-care-improvement-program/.) Remaining funds will be appropriated in future phases, with a spending deadline of December 2026.
Though NJEDA will not begin to accept applications until later in 2022, some aspects of the funding criteria are clear. Facilities may be owned or leased. Applicants must currently enroll, or have enrolled in the 12 months prior to the date of application, at least one child receiving support through the NJ Department of Human Services (NJDHS) Child Care Assistance Program, which subsidizes child care for families at 200 percent or below the federal poverty line. Child care providers must also commit to enroll in NJDHS’ quality rating improvement system, Grow NJ Kids. Forty percent of phase 1 funding is reserved for child care providers in economically-distressed “Opportunity Zone” census tracts.
Though the initial phase is limited to child care centers licensed by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (NJDCF), subsequent phases will be open to home-based child care providers registered with NJDHS. Full eligibility criteria can be found at https://www.njeda.com/child-care-improvement-program/.
Given the extent of the need, providers should work with NJDCF to expedite lead-related testing of their facilities to capitalize on this unique opportunity to protect young children.