The Northwest Territories’ initial deadline to opt in to a new federal childcare subsidy is understood to have passed on Friday without an extension.
Two Yellowknife MLAs had on Thursday called for education minister RJ Simpson to push back the deadline on the grounds that many daycares and day homes still had unanswered questions.
Some childcare providers have accused the territory of rushing through its implementation of a federally funded program that seeks to halve the average family’s childcare fees this year, then move fees toward $10 a day in the four subsequent years.
In two letters this past week, a group of day homes and the territory’s early childcare association said providers were being in effect coerced into opting in to the program. On Tuesday, the territorial government told providers they would be barred from accessing any territorial funding unless they took the federal subsidy.
Some providers say signing up for the federal subsidy means handing control of their fees to the territorial government, which is capping increases this year at 2.3 percent. The territory argues that the federal cash will be stretched too thin without such a cap in place.
On Thursday, Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland and Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby said the program appeared not to be ready to roll out and providers should have more time to understand the consequences of opting in.
Cleveland told Cabin Radio she was asking Simpson for an extension to the April 15 initial deadline. Any providers not signed up by the end of Friday will not be able to offer their families retroactive fee subsidies backdated to January 1, the territorial government has said.
Providers can still sign up for the federal subsidy after April 15 and will receive benefits from the point of sign-up onward, the GNWT said, but can no longer access the retroactive portion of the subsidy.
The aim is that subsidies paid to providers are then passed on to parents. The retroactive portion allows providers to subsidize fees families paid between January and March this year by issuing a partial refund. Separate funding is being provided to cover the administrative cost to each provider of passing on the subsidy.
On Friday afternoon, Cleveland said by text message Simpson had told her he believed the April 15 deadline to be a federal requirement. She said she had sought clarity on that point but had yet to hear back.
The NWT’s Department of Education, Culture and Employment on Friday separately told Cabin Radio there would be no change to the initial deadline.
The deadline, spokesperson Briony Grabke said by email, “cannot be adjusted because that funding is linked to the 2021-22 fiscal year, which ends March 31, 2022.”
Asked why the end of the 2021-22 fiscal year meant the deadline could not extend past April 15, Grabke replied: “The fiscal year end is March 31 but work to finalize accounting continues after that. The April 15 deadline provided as much time as possible for programs and staff to continue to have conversations about the retroactive fee reduction, review program financial information to see where there could be flexibility, and allow time for documents to be processed before the 2021-2022 books close.”
Grabke said the department acknowledged the “vital role” played by all childcare providers in the territory and would “continue to work with them to help pass savings on to families and answer any follow up questions they may have.”