Not-for-profit childcare centres say that despite the government's new childcare funding model and JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme, they still face the prospect of closing within months.
Australia's childcare sector faced collapse just a month ago due to the coronavirus, with falling enrolments threatening jobs and centres, and care for children of essential workers.
In response, the government announced childcare would be free for families, but that childcare centres would only be paid 50 per cent of their standard fees.
Payments made through the wage subsidy program were also supposed to keep the centres afloat.
But for tiny not-for-profit centres like Wattle Early Childhood Centre in Lyneham, the combination leaves the centre 60 per cent down on its normal revenue.
Director of the centre Ashleigh Daly said the centre had applied for the exceptional circumstances fund that was supposed to help centres in that position, but she had been knocked back with no explanation.
Calls to the education department to try and find out why had gone unreturned.
"If we don't have those contributions we won't be able to survive past the end of the financial year because we won't be able to remain viable," Ms Daly said, explaining how the centre had gone from projecting a $4000 surplus for the financial year to a $53,000 deficit.
Not-for-profits like Wattle Early Childhood are run by parent-led management committees, and don't have the ability to apply for loans like bigger businesses accessing the wage subsidy scheme.
Fundraising efforts have begun in earnest to ensure the centre can afford things like nappies and food, but normal activities like fetes and barbecues are impossible, and community efforts don't solve the structural issue.
"The government has just failed us," Ms Daly said, describing how the one-size-fits-all approach had left many centres with a bleak outlook.
"We don't want to consider [hibernation] as a an option but we can't sustain the losses we're experiencing either."
"We're a not-for-profit so we don't have hundreds of thousands in reserves."
Prue Warrilow, national convenor of the peak body for not-for-profit childcare Australian Community Children's Services, said members had reported "mixed" responses to the government's plan, with very small centres like Ms Daly's struggling the most.
Many centres faced a "catastrophic" situation a month ago, and while the system was mostly good, not-for-profits faced unique hurdles in accessing help.
"The smaller services are absolutely going to be more affected than larger services because they will have less reserves to draw on internally," Ms Warrilow said.
"The ATO website says you can go and talk to your bank and they will give you an advance, but if you're a not-for-profit it's really hard to borrow from a bank because of your governance structure."
Ms Warrilow said many in the sector were completely demoralised with the financial difficulties coming on top of the extra measures needed to keep children at the centres and in their own homes safe from coronavirus.
"All of that stuff is really wearing people down and I think in some ways it's really difficult to make good decision when you're in that space," she said.
Labor's spokeswoman for early childhood education and development Amanda Rishworth said the government needed to ensure early learning providers were given the support they need to stay open.
"Centre closures will mean parents in certain areas are unable to continue working or re-enter the workforce after the current crisis is over, as there will be a shortage of local child care spots," she said.
Education Minister Dan Tehan, who is responsible for the scheme said the government acted quickly to respond to the mass withdrawals that threatened the future of child care centres.
"This support includes the base payments under the Relief package operating in conjunction with the JobKeeper payment," he said.
"This is a very important element because approximately 60 per cent of a child care service's costs relate to staff wages and JobKeeper will covers a large proportion of that cost."
Mr Tehan said he encouraged centres to apply for the exceptional circumstances funding and to contact the department for help with understanding the payments.
"Services that increase attendance beyond the enrolments in the reference period of the package may be eligible for a supplementary payment for exceptional circumstances," he said.
"This means if your demand has increased - if you have more children attending now than you had in the reference period - you can apply to receive a higher payment from the Australian government."