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House’s Great Start bill will help ease Minnesota’s child care crisis

The Great Start for All Minnesota Children Act increases funding for the state’s child care assistance program and increases the provider rates.

Minnesota State Capitol
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Minnesota State Capitol
Minnesota has a child care crisis. I know this as a mom. I also know this as a small business owner and employer. That’s why I’ve been traveling to our state and national capitals over the past few weeks to sound the alarm.

In Minnesota, we have the fourth highest costs in the nation for infant care, averaging over $16,000 a year. The average cost to enroll an infant in a child care center is running $310 per week.

After we had our son, my husband and I did our best to piece together child care and work. I even delayed taking a job until my son had aged out of the most expensive infant care category, which costs more than in-state college tuition.

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When I did go back to work, I was only taking home a $244 paycheck after child care expenses. It just didn’t seem worth it.

Juggling new business and child care

My husband and I had a dream to open our own small business, so I quit and we took the $16,000 we would have spent on child care and invested in starting up our store. But this meant we were juggling opening a business with full time care of our kids, which was a real struggle at times. That gives me great empathy with my employees who have kids.  According to Child Care Aware, during a six-month period, 45 percent of working parents missed work at least once because of a child care breakdown.

Sarah Piepenburg
Sarah Piepenburg

And when one of our best employees left to take a job with a corporation that offered child care benefits, it really hit me that this crisis was directly impacting small businesses across our country.

One thing I know about business is that you have to balance supply and demand. Child care is a market that just isn’t working. Costs are so high already, yet child care providers themselves are earning incredibly low wages. Not only is child care too expensive for working families, but there aren’t even enough spots. We stood on multiple waitlists ourselves in Minneapolis, and it’s worse in rural areas.

In Minnesota, 26 percent of families live in a child care desert, meaning there are not enough spots even available. Minnesota overall only has enough spots for less than three-quarters of its children who need care, forcing families to either drop out of the workforce or add burden on relatives. Simultaneously, licensed child care providers have dropped 20 percent since 2014 and between 2013- 2017, Minnesota lost 2,000 in-home child care providers, losing spots for more than 3,000 children.

Invest the one-time budget surplus

Clearly child care needs investment. That’s why I am glad that the Minnesota House Democratic leadership has a plan to invest the one-time budget surplus this session in child care with the Great Start for All Minnesota Children Act (HF 1).

The plan increases funding for the child care assistance program (CCAP) and increases the provider rates. This would help families access child care, help in-home providers accept funding, and prevent our state from losing millions of federal dollars.

We know child care assistance alone isn’t enough to address this crisis. In addition to funding for child care assistance, we need to focus on how we can increase the supply of child care by supporting new and existing in-home child care providers. This plan addresses the shortage in a variety of ways, including increasing funding for programs promoting and expanding child care settings like Womenventure and Children’s First Finance.

The plan appropriates nearly $1 million to modernize regulations and help make it easier for in-home providers to start and grow their businesses — including updating outdated  licensing standards that haven’t been changed since the 1980s.

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Support in-home family day cares

By passing this legislation, we can support in-home family day cares in navigating a complicated system and work with them on what they need. We should continue to ask the experts, who care deeply about our children, what to change to make it easier to run a day care efficiently and maintain the highest level of safety possible.

At the end of the day all of our children deserve the highest quality care, and families need the choice to pursue their economic lives. The cost of inaction on child care will mean businesses will continue to lose billions annually due to absenteeism for child care care breakdowns and millions more caregivers will drop out of the workforce, as I did.

We need to support our child care providers, and invest in child care as a community. For our families, our employees, and most important, our children.

Sarah Piepenburg is the owner of Vinaigrette, a specialty oil and vinegar shop in Minneapolis, as well as a member of the Main Street Alliance of Minnesota.

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