BOISE — More than 100 Idaho child care providers and parents, many with babies, toddlers or young children in tow, filled three levels of the Capitol rotunda Monday, plus assembling with strollers on the Capitol steps, to call for legislators to approve $99 million in federal aid to the state’s struggling child care industry before lawmakers adjourn.

They carried carrying signs with slogans including, “This isn’t the 1800s,” “I represent 200 parents that are at work,” “Child care is essential to Idaho families, vote for ARPA funds,” and “Don’t throw our kids under the bus!”

Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, co-chair of the budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, stood in the rotunda, looking up at all the protesters and savoring the happy hum of parents’ and children’s voices throughout the Capitol. “Ya think we get the message?” he said with a smile.

Asked what JFAC will do, Youngblood said, “You’ll see it. There’s a committee meeting tomorrow.”

He said he expects the figure proposed to the joint committee to be close to or equal to the governor’s request for $99 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for child care programs next year, including stabilization funds for Idaho’s child care industry and block grant funds for programs like Boys & Girls Clubs, after-school programs, 4-H and more.

“We’re working on it,” he said.

Youngblood added, “It’s a wonderful day. I love that sound. It’s very nice to see folks in the Capitol,” something that’s usually common during the legislative session, but this year has been largely missing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many child care centers closed for the day Monday to bring their message to the Legislature. Lori Fascilla, director of Giraffe Laugh child care centers, said, “We’re representing at least 29 centers and 39 programs. Four thousand children are affected today because we’re here instead of providing child care.”

Boise mom Kailey Bunch-Woodson came to the Capitol along with her husband and their 18-month-old son, Sol, and joined Sol’s beloved child-care teacher, Bailey Ceriello, on the fourth floor of the Capitol rotunda.

“We want to support his teachers, and we want to support child care in Idaho,” Bunch-Woodson said. “I’m a working mom, and we rely on child care to have the ability to work.”

Both Bunch-Woodson and her husband took a half-day off work to come to the Capitol this Monday in the afternoon, both planned to work from home and trade off caring for Sol in two-hour chunks.

Kelli Richards, a care provider at Kids Choice, had her stroller in a line with others on the Capitol steps, and daughter Cece, age 21 months, was marveling at the brightly colored signs and a nearby bucket of fresh flowers. Son Lincoln, two and a half months, napped in his compartment of the double stroller.

“We’re here trying to get them to appropriate the funds before all of our grants run out, because the pandemic has really hit early childhood education hard,” Richards said. “Parents have got to go to work. We’re here encouraging the Legislature to approve the funds so that we are able to keep our centers going and keep our kids in care so that we can go to work, and our kids have safe places to go while we do that. That’s super-important. We don’t want any more centers to close because of the coronavirus and the pandemic.”

At a virtual news conference Monday morning, Christine Tiddens of Idaho Voices for Children said more than 220 Idaho child care centers have now closed permanently within the last year.

Betty McQuain, a longtime faculty member at Brigham Young University-Idaho who teaches early childhood education courses and a former home day-care operator herself, said, “We know there are many, many other centers that are just teetering on the brink of having to close their doors.”

“The child care industry in Idaho has always been a fragile industry, but since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the child care industry in Idaho has been in crisis,” McQuain said. “Child care is collapsing in Idaho. Most providers have been operating at a loss over the past year. … Businesses are struggling to hire qualified teachers.”

“Idaho’s children deserve the best we can offer them in terms of loving, nurturing care from child care providers who are well trained and well paid,” McQuain said.

Jane Gordon, a working mom from Boise, said child care already was scarce in Idaho before the pandemic. “I signed up for waitlists when I was 12 weeks pregnant,” she said. “I wasn’t off the waitlist until Elliott was 8 weeks old.”

“Child care affects the whole family, and it disproportionately affects women,” she said.

Current legislation pending on the House 3rd Reading Calendar would authorize $34 million in federal aid from the December COVID-19 aid package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump to continue grants and other emergency measures to keep child care centers in Idaho operating during the pandemic, but the current version of the bill ends all those programs on Dec. 31.

Lawmakers have yet to introduce legislation to authorize aid from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, which has millions more in child care aid designated for Idaho that could be spent after that date.

Mackenzie Allen, director of Circle of Care Montessori Preschool in Coeur d’Alene, said her center made the “difficult decision to stay open” through the pandemic, including the lockdown, for essential workers and its special-needs kids, and has been operating with sharply reduced revenue.

“In one year we lost eight employees,” she said.

She increased wages for her workers by 27 percent, but still struggled to keep staff.

“I have consistently had to cover absences due to employee illness,” she said. “Families are so exhausted and stretched thin. They need quality care for their children, and care they can afford.”

Said Gordon, “If we don’t have child care, our state is not going to have an economic recovery.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.