State aid for preschools too little too late, says prof

Lady Buxton Preschool employees Patricia Walters, left, and Amina Samuels, sanitising the play areas for children.

A state financial aid package for preschools may well come too late to save many of them from ruin.

They have until Friday February 19 to apply for the relief, but Professor Eric Atmore, the director of the Claremont-based Centre for Early Childhood Development (CECD), believes the aid is 11 months too late.

“The ECD sector has been devastated during the Covid-19 pandemic,” he says. “Many teachers have lost salaries and some ECDs needed to close.”

On Friday February 5, the national Department of Social Development (DSD) released its plan to help ECDs recover from the financial impact of the pandemic. The economic stimulus relief fund (ESRF) is meant to subsidise the ECDs’ employment costs.

According to the department’s website, there is R496 million to pay a maximum of R4 470 each to up to four staff at an ECD. Schools with more than four staff will have to subsidise all the wages from the same allocation. These will be once-off payments.

Those seeking the relief must navigate a detailed online application, requesting bank details, a breakdown of staff qualifications, the ages of the children in the ECD’s care, an NPO number and supporting documents.

Professor Atmore believes the process is unnecessarily difficult and will be a hurdle for many in desperate need.

“We will be taking the government to court to challenge this bureaucratic application process,” he said.

For the past year, the CECD and the C-19 People’s Coalition have been trying to get clarity on the stimulus package from the department. In August last year, ECD staff protested against the department’s plan to spend some of the R1.3 billion being set aside for an ECD stimulus package on the temporary employment of 36 000 youth to monitor Covid-19 compliance at ECDs while teachers jobs were on the line (“ECD staff protest to save jobs in the sector,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, August 27).

That plan, says Colleen Horswell-Daniels, a spokeswoman for the C-19 People’s Coalition, subsequently failed to materialise, but questions remain about where the money that was to have been spent on the compliance officers (R813 million, according to C-19) is now.

And Professor Atmore said that if R496 million of the R1.3 billion was used for the ESRF, then what happened to the rest of the funds?

The Tatler put these questions to the national department, but we did not get a response.

Sedick Dawood, the director of the Lady Buxton Preschool in Claremont, said three of their 25 staff had left because they could not get by on their reduced salaries.

“Our staff are on short time; they work shifts, and when they do not work, they do not get paid. When they do get paid, the rate at which they get paid is lower than their normal rate.”

The employment stimulus might bring some relief, but he would have preferred a consistent temporary employment relief scheme payment to help his employees, he said.

“Many of them had to have payment plans for their basic monthly expenses, though they still showed a dedication to caring for the children at the centre.”

ECDs can apply for the stimulus relief by calling 08000 89 666 toll free or by visiting www.dsd.gov.za.