TRENTON — State officials are working to finalize the details of a quarter-billion dollar program to help middle-income families and the struggling child-care industry connect so that people can comfortably return to work as schools reopen.

Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said the program is focused on ensuring children have access to child care during the day with licensed providers.

“What these services will be available for is for child care centers to be able to both host our subsidy-eligible children with incomes who are not eligible for our subsidy program today but have incomes below $75,000, those families will also be able to tap into these coronavirus relief funds,” she said.

Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Passaic, said the state needs to promote the new program because people won’t be aware of the opportunity.

“Being a former classroom teacher, I can imagine some of the situations with many of our grandparents and single parents going back to work trying to make sure that their children are safe should become paramount,” Wimberly said.

“It’s unfortunate we’re in this situation, but we have to make sure that these kids are safe during this time. We do not want a 12-year-old babysitting a 4-year-old and things of that nature,” he said. “That becomes a major, major safety concern.”

Johnson agreed that the program will need to be promoted but said that because it’s federally funded, the state must be careful to follow rules about how the money is spent.

The child-care initiative will be one of the biggest initiatives financed through New Jersey nearly $2.4 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund created through the federal CARES Act. Johnson said it’s important to protect women’s role in the economy.

“I’m so concerned about increasing reports about women leaving the workforce because of child-care concerns at this critical time,” Johnson said. “This should not be a moment where we lose ground, and we need to be able to support women at this time.”

Enter your number to get our free mobile app

Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, D-Essex, said women are certain to lose ground.

“As much as we would like to not think so, commissioner, unfortunately I think we know that for us women, especially women that have children in the house, this is going to be a setback for us,” Pintor Marin said. “And we are going to have a work a lot harder after all of this is said and done to really recoup our placement and things that were lost to us.”

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.