Minnesota has an unprecedented budget surplus, which gives us the perfect opportunity to make bold and necessary investments in childcare.
Minnesota consistently ranks as one of the most expensive states for childcare. The reason is simple. We underfund childcare compared to other states, and not just by a little, but by a lot. In January, Gov. Tim Walz proposed using part of what is now a nearly $9.3 billion state surplus to make investments in childcare. These investments could transform how we do childcare in Minnesota and have huge benefits for children, families and all of us.
There is a wide gap between the actual cost of providing high-quality childcare and what most families can afford. While approximately half of the 96 families we (Pumpkin Patch Childcare and Learning Centers) serve receive Child Care Assistance, the number of families who are struggling to afford child care is so much higher. Over the past year, we have had about 20 families who have had to leave or have considered leaving because they can no longer afford the cost. That doesn’t account for the 30 percent of families who call for enrollment information and decide not to enroll only because they cannot afford to.
The Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) is intended to bridge the gap between what families can afford and what child care actually costs. But the rates providers receive from Child Care Assistance are currently far behind the federal standard, leaving providers to make up the losses to provide high-quality care. Raising the rates would allow providers to make ends meet and invest in their programs.
The way Minnesota currently funds CCAP makes it difficult for families to receive assistance when they need it. The state currently only provides a set amount of funds for assistance every year and these funds are given out on a first-come, first-serve basis. When the funds for the year are depleted, families have to wait, meaning, they may go without care for weeks or months. We can eliminate waiting lists by fully funding the program.
CCAP naturally has income limits that families must meet to receive assistance. But the current income limit is far too low. Many, many families make above the income limit, but don’t make nearly enough to pay for child care. This is not hard to imagine as the current income limit to enter the Child Care Assistance Program is 47 percent of the state median income. For a family of three, this means about $45,000. The cost of care for one child in Minnesota for a year is at least $10,000-$12,000, and often thousands more, making it impossible to both pay for child care and basic essentials like housing and food for a family of three. Once a family qualifies, they have to make less than 67 percent of the state median income to continue to qualify. Still, 67 percent is far too low. I have heard from many families who had to decide whether or not to accept a promotion at work because of a pay increase which would be enough to bump them off of assistance, but nowhere near enough to cover the costs of child care. Families are working incredibly hard. The ability to advance their careers should not prevent them from affording the child care they need to provide for their families.
House File 3861, which is currently being considered in the Minnesota House will raise the eligibility for Child Care Assistance to 85 percent of state median income. This would allow thousands more families throughout the state access to high-quality childcare like ours with copays closer to 5-14 percent of their income. With a $9.3 billion state surplus, we have the opportunity to expand Child Care Assistance across Minnesota permanently. An investment in this program is an investment that has innumerable benefits – moral, social, educational and economic – not only for families with young children, but for all Minnesotans, because Minnesota is at its best when our youngest citizens and their families have the opportunity for success.
Amanda Schillinger is the director of Pumpkin Patch Childcare and Learning Centers in Burnsville. She has been working in childcare since 1993.