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Boost child care, help families

For one family, the child care center down the road remains closed because of the financial hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. The next-closest provider is miles away, and not currently accepting infants.

For another, the cost of licensed care in their area is so high that one parent decides to give up a good job and stay home to care for their multiple young children.

One provider wants to pay its workers a living wage, but, with reduced enrollment and low state subsidy reimbursement, the provider is struggling to make ends meet for their small child care business.

Those are the child care stories of families and providers across the state.

Back at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, child care was rightfully deemed essential. While a few waves of financial support from the state and federal government have helped provide some stability, costs remain high, and more support is needed.

Instead of a return to the status quo that left so many families, providers, and workers in a vulnerable position, Michigan has the opportunity to turn things around and become a true leader in child care.

But families and child advocates are pushing for big changes.

The Michigan League for Public Policy is part of the Think Babies Michigan Collaborative, which is working to provide child care assistance to more families, increase reimbursement rates to child care providers, fund more social-emotional services, and hold government officials accountable with a child care financing plan.

The Think Babies Michigan initiative is also demanding a focus on equity, where more resources are distributed to those communities who are most affected by a lack of child care, whether due to geographic isolation, racial segregation, or exclusion from economic opportunities. More than 1,000 parents, advocates, and organizations from around the state make up the collaborative, and we encourage you to join here: ecic4kids.org/policy-thinkbabiesmi.

Northern Michigan families and child care providers are facing their own challenges right now, and we want to make sure your voices are heard as funding and policy decisions are made going forward.

To help in that important effort, the League has developed child care fact sheets for all 83 counties that are available at mlpp.org/child-care-in-michigan-by-county.

From rural to urban areas, child care remains a critical need. Some revealing takeaways for Alpena, Alcona, Montmorency, and Presque Isle counties include:

∫ As of January 2021, a share of providers remained closed, ranging from 14% in Alpena County to 40% in Alcona County.

∫ Even when all providers are open, counties in the region did not have enough licensed spots for kids and were considered to have low capacity. Two counties, Alcona and Montmorency, are considered to be child care deserts.

∫ The majority of families with young kids in the region have incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level, meaning they could benefit from an expansion in child care assistance.

∫ Across the region, only four licensed centers report that they are accepting infants.

∫ Only about 5% of kids ages 0-5 receive child care assistance statewide, with three out of the four counties in the region having even lower rates of children receiving subsidy.

Michigan is not alone in the child care crisis.

Thankfully, more help is on the way in the form of more than a billion dollars coming into the state for child care from the federal American Rescue Plan. Those dollars will go a long way in boosting parents and providers. But our state budget must also reflect the essential importance of child care in our lives by increasing the income eligibility level for the state’s child care subsidy, as well as the child care subsidy rates for providers.

We can use our state dollars to complement federal funds, ensuring all families have high-quality options for child care throughout the state.

We can treat child care with the dignity it deserves, boosting workers’ wages and providing more support for home-based providers.

The status quo before 2020 left too many families and workers vulnerable. Join us to make child care a priority in a more caring future.

Parker James is Kids Count policy analyst at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

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