WELL Fund: Year in Review
Enterprise Community Partners PNW Office officially launched the WA Early Learning Loan (WELL) Fund in January of 2020. The goal of the WELL Fund was to provide low-cost financing to early learning providers in order to expand and open new childcare classrooms for children and families across the state. Like many of our programs this year, we began with clear objectives, and while we certainly met our goals, we could not anticipate what 2020 had in store for us. The crisis childcare providers faced this year drove us to expand our approach in ways we had not originally anticipated.
When the Covid pandemic hit, many childcare providers began facing tremendous challenges such as safeguarding the health and safety of children and staff, dealing with drops in enrollment numbers, and now, accommodating school age children undergoing remote learning. Since the start of the pandemic over 1,000 WA state childcare programs have closed. Those who have reopened and have maintain services for working parents speaks to the resilience and ingenuity of those in working in this field.
The WELL Fund powered through these turbulent times, and despite the beforementioned challenges, many childcare providers were able to access critical support and resources through the WELL Fund. Throughout the year, we were successfully able to provide technical assistance (TA) such as business and financial sustainability, Covid resources and supports, and connections with statewide relief funds. In addition, for providers who were actively expanding or building new childcare centers, we provided TA in the form of project development, financial readiness, and licensing supports. Technical assistance was offered individually to nearly 100 providers, and through various webinars that reached several hundred more across the state. Partnering with other early learning advocates ensured we intentionally supported those providers who were most vulnerable and those who served communities with the most need.
Beyond addressing the ever-rising TA needs in this community, our loan fund successfully closed on eight deals for providers across the state. The closed loans include predevelopment loans, acquisition loans, construction and tenant improvement loans, and permanent loans. The public and private funding features in our loan fund allowed us to maintain low cost financing with an average of 2.5% interest rates and flexible lending terms. This competitive approach has spread through word of mouth to many providers who are now actively seeking financing for their businesses.
One borrower received a construction loan to expand their childcare program that specifically serves teen parents at a local high school. Their program and wrap around supports help parents complete high school, receive career counseling, and parenting supports, while providing high quality early learning for their children. Another borrower received an acquisition loan to build their new center. Their current center is bursting at the seams, running over 22 programs out their center from: childcare, foster care, homelessness supports, food drives, rehabilitation cafes, and a plethora of other social services for the local community.
Our year end successes also include two highly successful grant rounds for providers throughout the state: one to support the feasibility development for new childcare/early learning projects, and a second that provided emergency Covid renovation dollars. This grant was met with tremendous interest in which nearly 15% of all WA state licensed childcare providers applied for. These grants reached awardees in both eastern, western and peninsula areas, serving rural and urban communities where childcare access was in high need.
The WELL Fund was able to allocate nearly $6 million dollars in both private and public funding for the above-mentioned grants and loans, which resulted in over 90 new early learning classrooms, and over 1,000 new childcare/early learning slots were created.
Since launching the WELL Fund has prioritized using a Racial Equity approach in all our outreach, technical assistance, deals and grants. Centering a racial equity at the heart of our work this year has ensured the following outcomes:
- Intention outreach to providers of color, or those programs which include leadership of color, or WMBBI identifying owned business.
- Our pipeline and currently funded projects include a racial equity impact within communities—Providers who serve communities of color, those who also are providing culturally competent care to children and families.
- All pipeline and funded projects serve low-income communities, communities of color, multiethnic, multilingual, multi-religions communities, and children with special needs, children who may be experiencing homelessness, and children who are in foster care
The 2020 year threw many of us unexpected programmatic challenges and barriers. Despite this, The WELL Fund has proven itself to be a key resource needed to increase access to childcare for Washingtonians, and thus a critical role in the overall economic recovery of the state. Our adjustment and entrepreneurial approach allowed us to continue our objectives while also responding to the current needs of our communities. This work could not have been successful without the diligent and dedicated work of our lending partners: Washington Community Reinvestment Association and Craft3. Their dedication and forward-thinking approach have allowed us to surpass our objectives. We look forward to the 2021 year and hope to continue the hard work, full steam ahead.