COLUMN: Minnesota families need reliable, affordable child care

By Emily Piper

Guest Columnist

As a parent of four young children, I know first-hand that child care is the biggest investment a family will make in the early years of a child’s life. Reliable child care is critical for the success of strong families, empowers working parents and lays the foundation for our children’s success in school and in life. The planning, money and resources we put into building Minnesota’s child care system comes back to us and our communities in many ways. It pays off when children are ready for school and on track to develop into healthy, productive adults. It is essential for parents’ peace of mind, knowing their children are safe and secure while they are at work.

But with skyrocketing costs and a provider shortage across the state, we are on the brink of a child care crisis in our state. In Minnesota, there are currently 650,000 children ages 0-12 years who may require some level of child care coverage outside of a school setting. In both Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities metropolitan area, we are woefully short of quality, licensed child care providers. While options are shrinking, costs are going up. Child care costs Minnesota families over $10,000 per year for each child on average, among the highest in the country.

Parents shouldn’t have to work a second or third job just to afford child care or patch together a schedule with the help of family and friends, but that is the reality of many Minnesota families. We need to work together now to expand Minnesota families’ options for reliable child care and bring down the cost of child care coverage.

That is why Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith have proposed investments in child care to help Minnesota families and our economy. These investments would:

  • Make child care more affordable. Under current law, only 33,000 Minnesota families are eligible to receive tax breaks for child care. Gov. Dayton’s proposal would expand eligibility for these tax credits to a total of 95,000 Minnesota families, providing $60 million in tax cuts. Seventy-five thousand families would save an additional $379 per year.
  • Renovate or construct new early learning facilities. We have a responsibility to ensure that child care settings are quality learning environments with well-trained professionals. That is why Gov. Dayton’s budget invests $15 million to renovate or construct new early learning facilities across our state.
  • Improve children’s safety. Gov. Dayton’s budget proposal would increase licensing and inspection efforts in child care facilities by requiring annual inspections of child care centers and reducing licensing caseloads. Last year licensors typically had a caseload of 175 and were only able to review 31 percent of Minnesota child care centers. We want to reduce that to 75 cases per licensor. This would allow us to be faster and more efficient at reviewing programs and child care centers to know that our children are safe and well cared for.
  • Ensure families have stable child care for 12 months without worrying about fluctuating costs. The Child Care Assistance Program is one tool that helps lift struggling families out of poverty and supports our economy. Through this program, families with low incomes get help to pay for child care so that parents may pursue employment or education leading to employment, and so that children are in environments where they are learning and getting prepared to enter school ready to learn. The Child Care Assistance Program helps support almost 30,000 children from families with low incomes in an average month. This would also benefit 4,100 child care providers who serve children on the Child Care Assistance Program each month.
  • Support our child care providers. The number of licensed child care providers in Minnesota dropped from 12,449 in 2012 to 10,599 in 2016. With this statewide decline, families find it more difficult to find quality child care. Under the governor’s proposal, approximately two-thirds of providers serving children on the Child Care Assistance Program would see weekly rates increase in Greater Minnesota between an estimated 6.5 percent for licensed family child care providers to 12 percent for licensed child care centers, and in the Twin Cities metropolitan area between 5.5 percent for licensed family child care providers to 8.5 percent for licensed child care centers. Increasing child care rates to better reflect the current market would improve stability and help improve child care quality.

Through tax credits to Minnesota families, and investing in our child care providers and facilities, we can improve our child care system to be the reliable and affordable network that Minnesota families need and deserve. The time to invest in child care is now.

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Emily Piper is the Commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Human Services.