As you read this, there are 4,997 families in Minnesota on a waiting list to access affordable child care. While they wait, often for years at a time, the very child-care facilities where they want to send their kids are hanging on by a thread as they struggle to keep their doors open.
We have an affordable-child-care crisis on our hands in Minnesota. And this was the year we were supposed to do something about it. Instead, Republicans in the state legislature are not only failing to move forward with a bipartisan plan to expand affordable child-care opportunities; they are actually making the problem even worse.
Rewind to last year, when, after a call to arms from both Republicans and Democrats, the legislature created the Legislative Task Force on Access to Affordable Child Care. We set out then to find the answer to a simple question: Why is affordable child care so difficult to find, especially in Greater Minnesota?
Months spent learning about the issues
So we talked to parents. We talked to child-care providers. We talked to state and county officials. We spent months crisscrossing the state to learn about the problems facing working families and the centers that care for our children while parents are away at work.
And we actually found some answers.
This bipartisan team of four Republicans and four Democrats came together and released a comprehensive 57-page report detailing exactly what we learned from the experts and the people on the ground and specific steps we could take to address this problem head on.
For example, we learned we needed to reform and invest in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which helps low-income families find affordable child care. By increasing the CCAP provider reimbursement rates, changing eligibility for CCAP from six months to 12, and allowing child-care providers who are guardians of foster-care children to be eligible for CCAP reimbursement, we can make targeted changes that will allow more working parents to have access to child care and pay providers what they need to keep their doors open.
We also learned that child-care providers were often spending so much time doing paperwork that they weren’t able to give children the care they needed and deserved. So we decided the legislature should simplify regulations and standardize enforcement.
We learned that many providers, particularly those in Greater Minnesota, were not able to access the training courses they needed to complete and that the state should therefore make those trainings more regular and easier to get to from rural Minnesota.
Finally, we learned that middle-income families were often forgotten in our discussion about child care because they were ineligible for assistance and yet priced out of child-care centers without it. So we decided we needed to expand the existing child-care tax credits and consider incentives for businesses to invest in on-site child care.
A surprising bipartisan victory
After months of travel, research and public testimony, this bipartisan task force had finally landed on a set of concrete policy proposals that could solve our child-care crisis in Minnesota. It was a surprising victory, given the usual partisan gridlock at the Capitol, and I was eager to get back to St. Paul to pass these reforms into law.
And then, the 2017 legislative session started. And nothing happened.
Despite all the rhetoric from Republicans about their commitment to making child care more affordable, despite creating a brand new subcommittee specifically for Child Care Access & Affordability, and despite assurances in public and in private from House leadership that this would be the year we actually got something done, the Republican budget passed with barely a nickel more to make child care more affordable in Minnesota. In fact, they actually made the problem worse by cutting $3.7 million from the Basic Sliding Fee program and rejecting federal money set aside for affordable child care.
Was it all for show?
All of this is, in a word, infuriating. This comprehensive report for which taxpayers footed the bill went straight to recycling, and Republicans’ complete indifference to the struggling working mothers and fathers who are desperately trying to find affordable care for their children left me wondering whether this was all for show all along.
I’m passionate about this issue because it’s a struggle I know all too well. As a kid, my mother was only able to afford child care because of CCAP. And now as a mother myself, I see every day how necessary child care is for the economic security of working parents.
Parents across the state, especially in rural Minnesota, deserve to know why the Republican Party abandoned its promises to fix our broken child-care system.
Because this constant waiting game is no longer acceptable.
Rep. Peggy Flanagan represents District 46A in the Minnesota House of Representatives and is the House DFL Lead for the Subcommittee on Childcare Access & Affordability.
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