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Children's Advocates: COVID-19 will Widen Care Gap in MN

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Minnesota schools are closed, at least through March 27, leaving many parents who can't work from home scrambling for care in the new coronavirus pandemic. (Adobe Stock)
Minnesota schools are closed, at least through March 27, leaving many parents who can't work from home scrambling for care in the new coronavirus pandemic. (Adobe Stock)
March 20, 2020

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minnesota parents who can't work from home are struggling to find care for their kids during mandatory school closures prompted by the new coronavirus. Children's advocates hope the state takes further action to ensure the care system doesn't fall apart.

State leaders are in the process of setting up free child care for parents who work in essential services, such as health care. And day-care centers are being urged to stay open, but not all of them are.

Bharti Wahi, executive director of the Children's Defense Fund in Minnesota, says that's a big problem for parents whose work isn't deemed "essential," but who can't work from home.

"We're going to still need folks that work in post offices and banks to be able to go to work," says Wahi. "And my deep concern is that we are going to have a child-care system that is just not able to weather the challenges."

CDF is pushing for legislation giving the Department of Human Services emergency powers that, in turn, would give child-care centers more flexibility to meet the needs.

Despite pleas to quickly adopt the bill, recent problems resulted in a state audit of the department - which could cause concern for some lawmakers as they decide how to vote.

Advocates are also pushing for a child-care funding package gets approved.

Wahi says lawmakers who might be skeptical need to realize the magnitude of the growing crisis. She also notes that it follows years of funding shortfalls for child-care.

"And so, the real critical weaknesses of it are now being seen," says Wahi, "when we are in this really urgent crisis situation."

Earlier this week, Gov. Tim Walz included grocery-store workers in the category of "essential" workers during the pandemic. That allows them to qualify for the free child care being set up by the state.

Disclosure: Children's Defense Fund- Minnesota Chapter contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Children's Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN