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Proposed Child Care Cuts a Difficult Break for Working Low-Income Families

March 28, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Late last week, the Minnesota House and Senate passed Health and Human Services bills that seek $1.6 billion in sweeping cuts to help address the state's $5 billion deficit. Advocates worry that one area of cuts will threaten low-income families' ability to stay in the workforce, including cuts to child care assistance, as well as reductions in child care reimbursements for sick days, non-traditional hours, and in-home or friends-and-family care.

Additionally, $5 million in Basic Sliding Fee child care assistance funds not yet spent this year would be recaptured to help balance the state budget.

Mary Nienow, executive director of Child Care WORKS, is concerned.

"I think what's most troubling about that is that we know there are still about 4,000 families statewide that are on a waiting list to receive that child care assistance."

Nienow says that beyond encouraging workforce participation and reducing absenteeism, quality child care plays a key role in a child's academic and social development.

"It's important to recognize the brain research that's been coming out recently that shows us that so much of brain development occurs before the age of five. Early experiences, especially those in quality child care settings, are literally shaping how the brain is being built. So it's integral to everyone's future success and prosperity."

Shellie Rowe and her partner, Shawn, are closely watching how the proposed child care assistance cuts might affect their blended family. They have eight children, four of whom are in child care. While they both work full-time, without the sliding-fee assistance Rowe says they couldn't possibly afford over $3,000 a month in child care fees.

"We would probably be homeless, and we probably wouldn't be able to provide any basic needs for our children and ourselves. In today's economy and with the price of renting, there's no way we could make it on a one-parent household income and meet all of our needs."

Shawn is a mechanic, and Shellie works at a nonprofit that provides assistance for families facing a housing crisis. Their combined salaries amount to just over $60,000 per year.

Rowe says beyond providing them with a means to work, child care assistance gives the couple valuable peace of mind.

"We want to know that our kids are safe and go to work and be productive. I don't want to make my kids' care to suffer, but if I have to pay more for child care, then I can't provide more food for them or I can't pay my rent on time - I can't do those other important things, as well."

It could be two weeks before the Senate and House reconcile the bills.

Sharon Rolenc, Public News Service - MN