Affordable child care: good for all

At this point in the legislative session, there’s a lot of attention to the negotiations about budget numbers. Those are important, but we can’t lose sight of what the decisions at the Capitol are really about. And that’s how we, through our public investments, build a state where all Minnesotans – regardless of who they are or where they live – can get ahead and provide bright futures for their children.

Our friends with the Kids Can’t Wait coalition have been hearing from our Minnesota neighbors about the importance of child care assistance. We’ve heard from moms for whom child care assistance made the difference in being able to stay in the workforce, go to school, and advance in their careers. We’ve heard how child care assistance made it possible for their kids to learn and grow in child care that supported their developing minds. And we’ve heard from child care providers and other business owners about why it’s so important for Minnesota parents to be able to afford the cost of child care.

But too many Minnesota families struggle to find and pay for child care. Child care is hard to find: Minnesota has over 222,000 child care spaces, but over 300,000 kids under age 6 who might need a child care spot. Families of color and families living in certain regions of the state have an even more difficult time finding care. And child care is expensive: the average cost for enrolling a Minnesota infant in a child care center is $310 per week, or over $16,000 per year. That’s a real struggle for many families.

More than ever, we can’t afford to have parents leaving the labor market just because they can’t find child care. Minnesota’s unemployment rate is 3.2%; that is historically low, and recently the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) noted that they hear “from many sources that employers are indeed having increasing difficulty finding available workers.”

Investing in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) would support families and employers to keep our economy strong. Child care assistance covers a portion of a family’s child care bill on a sliding scale based on family income. Child care assistance covers kids up to age 12, is available in every county, and covers the hours parents are working. Parents have the freedom to choose a provider that best fits their family’s needs and preferences.

Unfortunately, Minnesota’s investment in child care assistance hasn’t kept up with the needs. Since FY 2003, state funding for child care assistance has dropped by 37 percent (after adjusting for inflation). As a result, about 2,000 families are on waiting lists. And, the state’s reimbursements to child care providers are woefully out of date so that it can be a financial hardship for providers to serve families participating in CCAP. This limits the options for family choices.

Governor Tim Walz and the Minnesota House have proposed investing in child care assistance, including additional funding to reduce the waiting list, updated provider reimbursement rates, and changes to meet federal requirements. These measures would make meaningful steps toward making child care assistance work better for families, kids, and child care providers, and for the state’s economy overall. In contrast, the Senate plan puts care for 30,000 kids at risk by eliminating CCAP with the promise of reinstated but reduced funding levels if the Department of Human Services redesigns the program.

The May 20 end of session is approaching quickly. Policymakers must focus on strategies to make Minnesota a place where all can thrive; child care assistance is a time-tested approach to do so that lets working parents afford child care, children to thrive, and businesses to have a reliable workforce.

Add your voice – contact your legislators and ask them to make funding for affordable child care for Minnesota families a priority in this year’s budget decisions.

-Betsy Hammer

About Betsy Hammer

Betsy Hammer is the Minnesota Budget Project's policy advocate.
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