State announces major child care aid, but some wonder if it’ll reach Northeast Michigan
ALPENA — If you work in Northeast Michigan and need child care, you may need to get on a waiting list before you decide to get pregnant.
That’s despite hundreds of millions of dollars in available state help for child care providers, which at least one provider said is so hard to obtain that none of it may make its way here.
The struggle for child care in Northeast Michigan — where many communities are considered “child care deserts” — continues as many parents wait over a year for a spot at any of just three large child care options in the area.
Across Alpena, Alcona, Montmorency, and Presque Isle counties, only three licensed child care centers (not counting preschools) can accommodate more than 20 children, according to state records. Only a handful of smaller centers can accommodate between one and 20 children.
In short, available spaces are extremely hard to find.
“Every single place I’ve called either doesn’t have an opening for infants or the waiting list is more than a year,” Alpena’s Hailey Nichol, pregnant with a Dec. 27 due date, said.
Nichol said she may have to quit her job and find a new one that will allow her to stay home with her child.
On Nov. 15, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the state will allocate $1.4 billion in federal aid over the next two years for Child Care Stabilization Grants to help child care providers.
But Mariah Finch, owner of the new Great Lakes Child Care Center, wonders if any of that money will flow into Northeast Michigan.
Finch opened her facility this fall with four children of her own because she couldn’t find child care for them.
“I have not yet received any grant money since opening in October of this year,” she said.
Of all the grants she has applied for previously, she qualified for just one $750 reimbursement for opening a new center — and she has not received that check, yet.
She has applied for stabilization grants in the past and did not receive any funding.
“How does the state pick and choose where the money goes?” she asked.
The state’s new child care budget also expands the eligibility criteria for working families who need child care subsidies. A family of four can now earn up to $49,000 a year and still receive free or low-cost child care.
But, Finch said, without any available spaces to take your infants, what good will that money do for Northeast Michigan families?
Delynn Pauly, Finch’s mother and helper at the daycare, said the community has been outstanding, donating supplies to keep her center running.
But Finch and Pauly said they need help paying their employees and money to expand so they can take in more children.
Still, the money set aside by Congress and the state Legislature, which includes $100 million for new and expanding child care businesses, is “the largest child care funding in Michigan’s history,” said Parker James, Kids Count policy analyst for Michigan League for Public Policy, the agency that said Montmorency and Alcona counties are “child care deserts,” with at least three kids needing care for every one slot available. The League says Alpena and Presque Isle counties have low capacity for child care.
Although, he said, “I’m not exactly sure right now how they are going to set it up.”
“All persons that apply for the new stabilization grants and qualify will receive grants,” promised Dawne Bell, CEO of the Early Childhood Investment Corp. Executive Committee, which was given the responsibility in leading the state’s federal child care quality efforts.
But, unless and until that money starts flowing, Northeast Michigan parents will continue to struggle, sometimes to the detriment of the region’s economy.
Liza Morris moved from the Alpena area to Midland for a job, and she said the lack of child care here played a role in that decision.
She has family in Midland to help care for her two children, and her husband took a seasonal job so he can be home more.
“We had a hard time (finding child care) before COVID,” she said. “After COVID, it became impossible.”