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Finding quality, affordable child care still a challenge for families

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Children play on the slide outside of Alpena Childcare and Development Center Tuesday in Alpena.

ALPENA — A mother-daughter duo is planning to open a new child care center in Alpena after their own struggles to get into a local child care center.

Delynn Pauly said she began watching her grandchildren after a local child care business put her daughter on a waitlist. After a year and a half on that waiting list, Pauly and her daughter, Mariah Finch, decided to start their own child care center.

Their child care center — Great Lakes Childcare Center — is on track to open mid-May in the former Knights of Columbus hall on Hamilton Road.

Pauly’s story is not unusual in Michigan, where access to quality and affordable child care is a challenge for families statewide.

A new study released by the Michigan League for Public Policy shows the current financing system isn’t enough to support child care providers, parents or children.

The report states that, unlike K-12 schools, child care is funded predominantly by parents and underpaid child care professionals, and is not considered a public good.

Child care for one infant consumes 55% of income for a parent working at minimum wage, according to the report.

“For parents to be able to make a living and make ends meet, affordable child care allows them to take advantage of economic opportunities that can really contribute to the health and well being of a family,” Parker James, kids count policy analyst, with the Michigan League for Public Policy, said.

The report also shows how difficult it can be to get children into a child care center as 44% of Michiganders live in a child care desert. A child care desert is where the demand for space at a licensed child care center outnumbers the local capacity.

In Northeast Michigan, Alcona and Montmorency counties are considered child care deserts while Alpena and Presque Isle counties are considered low capacity. In Alcona County, there are 3.6 children per spot and in Montmorency County, there are 3.4 kids per spot.

The need for child care is so great in Northeast Michigan that child care centers often have a waiting list. Kelli Witter, director of Alpena Childcare and Development Center, said the need for child care in the community is “great.”

“I know we have at least 200 families on our waitlist and we tell people our wait list is usually a year and a half to two years to get,” Witter said. “Sometimes we can do shorter times depending on what we have available but a lot of times, it’s a long wait.”

Meanwhile, Michigan’s investment in child care has declined over the last decade and fewer families were eligible for assistance, according to the report. Heading into the pandemic, Michigan had the second-lowest income eligibility threshold for child care in the country.

While the income eligibility threshold was increased to 150% in January, it still falls below the national median of roughly 185% poverty.

James, with the league, said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in her budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, recommended a large temporary increase in eligibility for child care subsidy assistance. He said the recommended increase is up to 200%, but that eligibility would decrease to 160% in 2023, which is still below the national median.

He said the league has shared county fact sheets with legislators to talk about the report and early child care budget needs.

The study also recommends a number of next steps for child care in Michigan — from targeting new child care funding to communities with the greatest need and the least access to high-quality care to requiring an annual comprehensive child care system finance plan.

“We just really want to drive home the message that child care really is so essential to our whole economy, our whole society, and that’s why we really need to be investing more resources so that families, providers, workers are treated with dignity,” James said.

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