To make Minnesota a state where every child can thrive, we must make efforts to support children directly, but also invest in the adults who look after them. Appropriately, Governor Mark Dayton’s budget includes several initiatives to address the needs of children and their caretakers — both parents and professional child care workers. Some of the highlights include:
Increasing access to Basic Sliding Fee Child Care Assistance. Dayton proposes an additional $13 million in FY 2016-17 to help more families afford child care through Basic Sliding Fee. Basic Sliding Fee helps families pay for care for children from infancy through age 12, but had a 6,157 family waiting list as of November.
With Basic Sliding Fee, children can thrive in stable environments while their parents are able to get to work or class. The administration estimates this proposal would result in a roughly 10 percent decrease in the waiting list.
Expanding the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. For the FY 2016-17 biennium, Dayton proposes a $100 million expansion so that more families can claim the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, which helps families offset a portion of the costs of care for children and some other dependents. He would also increase the maximum amount families can claim.
This approach of additional funding for Basic Sliding Fee along with a targeted expansion of the Dependent Care Credit are important steps that policymakers should support so that more Minnesota families can afford the child care that meets their needs. We encourage a stronger investment in Basic Sliding Fee, which focuses on the families who struggle most to afford child care.
Strengthening the Child Care Assistance Program. About $1.6 million in FY 2016-17 is proposed to simplify the Child Care Assistance Program for families and providers. Child Care Assistance includes Basic Sliding Fee and child care through the Minnesota Family Investment Program. Dayton’s proposal reduces administrative burdens around payment issues and allows children to stay in consistent care if their parent’s work schedule changes. These changes will help families as well as reduce administrative complexity and unpredictability for providers.
Providing mental health consultations for children and their families. When surveyed about their needs, many child care providers asked for help identifying and addressing the mental health issues observed in the children and families they serve. Dayton’s budget includes $922,000 in FY 2017 and $1.5 million annually thereafter for mental health consultations for children when they enter child care settings through public services like early childhood special education or the Minnesota Family Investment Program. In addition to improving health outcomes for children, the administration predicts that these consultations will reduce expulsions from child care and reduce turnover rates for child care staff.
Increasing the number of Head Start opportunities. Dayton’s proposal includes $19 million annually starting in FY 2017 so that more three-to-five-year-olds can participate in Head Start. Head Start prepares pre-schoolers for kindergarten and connects parents with supportive services. The administration estimates that the proposed increase would help 2,485 more children enter kindergarten better prepared for learning.
Encouraging school districts to establish pre-K. The governor’s budget takes some first steps toward voluntary pre-kindergarten programming being available to all four-year-olds. His budget includes funding for some school districts to expand pre-K, although school districts would need to provide matching funds. Dayton’s budget proposes $3 million in funds for preparation in FY 2016, followed by $106 million in FY 2017, and $360 million in FY 2018-19 for implementation.
Every child and family has a unique set of needs. Dayton seeks to put more children on the path to a healthy, successful future. This is a goal that lawmakers should also embrace this session.