SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A federal COVID-era program that pumped billions of dollars into child care is ending this weekend.

Experts fear it will lead to thousands of childcare centers shutting down across the country.

After Sept. 30, those funds will stop.

“It’s become increasingly more difficult for families to afford quality childcare,” said Chief Learning Officer at the Discovery Center Jackie Douglas.

The Century Foundation predicts 184 childcare programs will close in Missouri, leaving more than 10,000 kids without a place to go.

Daycares will now have to change the way they operate.

“Change is hard,” said Vickie Simpson, owner of Touch of Nature Quality Child Care. “And if the people or the programs that are getting the funding stop offering the services that those parents currently get, then they have to change and look elsewhere. And that is hard. And it is hard for a family, it’s hard for kids.”

Simpson receives the ARPA funds that are ending.

“I think there are many programs that do not get the federal funding that will also be able to accommodate lots of those kiddos and their families,” Simpson said. “I think it’s just a matter of families starting to look around.”

Douglas says a lack of federal funding is not the only issue.

“What’s happening is families are not able to afford child care, and the child care centers are not able to pay to staff a well-qualified workforce,” Douglas said.

Douglas tells OzarksFirst that one of the biggest reasons the Discovery Center started providing child care was for the staff who didn’t find any spots available for their kids at other daycares.

She says there are ways the community can get involved before more problems arise.

“We’ll see a lot of childcare centers close if we don’t do something as a community,” Douglas said. “And it’s looking more and more like legislative action will need to be taken at the local level so that we’ll have more control locally of what to do with those funds to be able to subsidize some of the cost of care.”

Missouri does offer a subsidy program. To see if you qualify or to sign up, click here.