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MN Lawmakers to Debate Child-Care Access, Affordability

Helping families with the cost and availability of child care and health care is the focus of the first three bills filed in this year's Minnesota Legislature. (yohoprashant/Pixabay)
Helping families with the cost and availability of child care and health care is the focus of the first three bills filed in this year's Minnesota Legislature. (yohoprashant/Pixabay)
January 23, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Taking care of children is labor intensive, which means it's also expensive, and that's why children's advocates say a bill introduced in the Minnesota Legislature is needed urgently.

Known as the Great Start for All Minnesota Children Act, it would invest in prenatal care, home visits to new, at-risk parents and early development in child care, especially for lower-income children ages birth to 3 years.

Bharti Wahi, executive director of the Children's Defense Fund Minnesota, said the younger children are, the more help parents need, and that's often when the fewest resources are available.

"Child care is, interestingly enough, an issue that I think impacts people across the economic spectrum. All of us have struggled with child care," she said, "and I think that there is a growing understanding that this isn't affordable; it's certainly not affordable for lower-income and working families."

The average cost for child care in Minnesota is more than $8,000 a year for an infant in home-based care and approaching $16,000 a year for center-based care.

Wahi said the legislation would narrow the "opportunity gap" that starts before a child reaches kindergarten. She said she believes state lawmakers understand that many parents, especially those who'd work in low-wage fields, aren't in the workforce because they can't find child care at a cost they can afford.

"I think they're also seeing child-care providers, particularly in greater Minnesota and amongst communities of color, who are leaving the field, because it is a challenging business model," she said. "Providers themselves know they can't charge parents more, but that if you want to hire high-quality people, you have to invest."

The number of privately-run child-care facilities has declined in Minnesota, and many others are clustered in urban areas. Wahi said the legislation would increase the reimbursement rate providers receive from the state's child-care assistance programs and could help spur the state's economy.

"We have been hearing from folks across the state - so many people, companies, business owners - who've been talking about the shortage of workers across the state of Minnesota," she said, "and part of that is really related to child care."

Wahi said she believes the bill would put children at the center of the Minnesota state budget and help more Minnesotans, including families who are homeless or transitioning out of homelessness.

The bill's text is online at revisor.mn.gov.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - MN