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Ottawa daycare operators say $10/day program not working, warning of closures

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Cheaper daycare was one of the Liberal government’s biggest promises, but now the program is struggling, with daycare operators warning of closures if things don’t change.

Saba Al-Odeh is the owner of Little Heroes Daycare Centre in Ottawa and says it’s been an uphill battle ever since opting into the $10-a-day program.

"I don’t get a profit, we are not even breaking even," Al-Odeh said. "The prices don’t reflect the expenses we are having at this moment."

The program was part of the Liberal government's 2021 budget, offering a $30-billion, five-year offer to provinces and territories that signed agreements to deliver child care that would first cut fees in half, then cut them to $10 a day by 2025-26.

Al-Odeh signed on to the program in 2022 and under the agreement, froze fees for families. But as her expenses go up, funding has stayed about the same.

"How can I afford to pay my employees, how can I pay the company's tissue paper or food?" Al-Odeh said.

Unable to raise fees, she’s forced to cut costs or risk closing her doors altogether – and she’s not alone.

"You hear people say 'anyone want supplies, we’re shutting down,' so all of these options that used to be available to parents are starting to disappear," said Jacqueline Grisé Jones, a member of the Ontario Association of Independent Child Care Centres.

The program leaves municipalities in charge of doling out funding, seemingly without any oversight.

"Each municipality has the right to change the way they do things with almost no notice," said Grisé Jones. "I really do think the idea of this program is fantastic, but it’s not working and it was never set up to work in its current format."

The City of Ottawa did not agree to an interview, but tells CTV News in a statement, "To support providers, in 2024, the province has provided an inflationary increase of 2.1 per cent. Many providers find this insufficient and worry about the impact on their participation in the CWELCC system. The Province has provided Ottawa one-time funding of $5.9 million for emerging issues. The City is currently developing a fair and transparent process to allocate these funds to providers who demonstrate that their revenue for eligible spaces is insufficient."

The government of Ontario says it’s updating the funding model which hasn’t changed since the program started.

"The model that we had previously was revenue replacement, so this year going forward, we’re working on a new funding formula that will address more of what our operators need," said Patrice Barnes, a parliamentary assistant to Ontario's Minister of Education.

The province did not specify a timeline on when those changes would roll out.

For Al-Odeh, opting out of the $10-day program is a last resort, but she says she’s running out of options.

"The reason why I don’t want to opt out of the program is I don’t want to add more financial stress to my families," Al-Odeh said.

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