A version of this column appeared in the Alpena News
For one family, the child care center down the road remains closed due to 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 their workers a living wage, but with reduced enrollment and low state subsidy reimbursement, is struggling to make ends meet for their small child care business.
These are the child care stories of families and providers across the state. Back at the start of the 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. Over 1,000 parents, advocates and organizations from around the state make up the collaborative, and we encourage you to join here: www.ecic4kids.org/policy-thinkbabiesmi.
To help in this important effort, the League has developed child care fact sheets for all 83 counties. From rural to urban areas, child care remains a critical need. Some revealing takeaways include:
- As of January of 2021, over 1 in 10 providers remained closed statewide.
- Almost all counties did not have enough licensed child care spots for kids. There is a general lack of supply of licensed providers.
- Since child care is “funded” mainly by parent fees, providers are concentrated in wealthier communities. Communities made vulnerable by disinvestment and exclusion tend to have a lower supply of providers.
- Only about 2 in 3 licensed providers statewide accept infants
- Only about 5% of kids ages 0-5 receive child care assistance, when almost half live in families with lower incomes (below 200% of the poverty level).
Michigan is not alone in this 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. These 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.
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