Walz Aims To ‘Fundamentally Make Change’ In Minnesota’s Ailing Child Care Industry

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This is the paradox of the childcare system: too few workers earn too little money while parents pay too much.

Gov. Tim Walz argues “now is the time” for a permanent change to help families with childcare, as heads of state head to the 2022 legislative session with a budget surplus of l State forecast of $ 7.7 billion.

“Our economic future depends on it. The growth that we want to see, that we all want to see, is going to depend on it,” Walz said last week in a virtual panel with parents, daycares and business leaders. He said he did not yet have a dollar figure on how much more the state should spend on child care, but noted that “it’s going to take investment.”

The Walz administration’s plan for additional child care spending will meet resistance from Republican lawmakers and follow a massive influx of federal dollars to support the industry. On Tuesday, Walz announced that he had earmarked an additional $ 20 million in federal pandemic relief dollars in grants to stabilize child care providers who are grappling with revenue loss and surge. costs amid the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an economic conundrum that lawmakers and governors in Minnesota have grappled with for years.

Throughout the pandemic, Minnesota has spent nearly $ 900 million on child care, more than almost any other state on a per capita basis, said Erin Bailey, executive director of the Minnesota Children’s Cabinet.

But federal pandemic relief dollars are a one-time expense, and state leaders are hoping Congress will act on permanent changes to child care.

Walz’s recent roundtable on the issue came shortly after President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act was blocked in Washington, with Senior Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin saying he would not support it. The $ 2 trillion national policy program included child care support for families and a free preschool. Biden has said he will work with Manchin and there is always a possibility that the bill will be done.

“We cannot do it alone. We need the partnership and the federal resources,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “The Build Back Better plan and initiative are really critical in addressing the challenges families face, and states need federal resources to meet those needs as well. But we are committed to leading the way in Minnesota and doing whatever we can. “

Business leaders and state officials stressed the importance of accessible and affordable child care given the nationwide labor shortage. One in four unemployed Americans said the need to be home to care for children or other family members made it difficult, if not impossible, to find full-time work, according to a recent report United States Chamber of Commerce Survey.

Rasheena Bickman saw the problem unfold firsthand. She is a program manager at the Northside Child Development Center of Catholic Charities and has two children who attend the center. For her family and those she serves, she said having an affordable place to bring their children is essential to maintaining the job.

“Child care is key. They need child care to go to work,” Bickman told state officials last week, noting that she has seen families lose child care, then their jobs and even their home. Meanwhile, she said the center has an ever-growing list of parents who have applied for child care but are not eligible for various reasons.

“It’s really tough when we have to deny the parents. We want the kids to be in our scenario, in a safe space with their peers,” Bickman said.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, advocate a different approach to tackling staff shortages and low salaries for educators.

Senator Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said Walz needs to change the formula for basic childcare stabilization grants, which she says is unfair to people running small businesses from of their family homes, which make up the majority of child care providers in rural Minnesota. The state must also reduce regulations in the childcare sector, she said.

“It’s not about the money at this point. It’s about hyper-regulation that doesn’t have a significant effect on the safety of children,” Kiffmeyer said.

Meanwhile, House Democrats have called for increased spending on various programs over the past few years and will continue to do so, said DFL Representative Dave Pinto, chair of the early childhood committee. from the room. He noted that the sector was “in deep crisis” before the pandemic struck.

Democrats will continue to push for an increase in reimbursement rates paid to child care providers through the state’s child care assistance program and want to allow more people to benefit of that help, Pinto said. He said they also want to increase spending on preschool scholarships and support expanding access to preschool education.

“I feel like the pressure just keeps mounting… the Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Business Partnership, city councils, employers and others. The pressure keeps mounting for action. “said Pinto. “I really hope and expect this to be the year we finally act.”

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