According to last week’s state budget forecast, Minnesota’s Basic Sliding Fee Child Care Assistance is projected to serve 4,598 fewer families every month in the current fiscal year than it did 13 years ago. A big reason is that state funding for child care isn’t anywhere close to what it should be. That’s why the Minnesota Budget Project, as part of the Kids Can’t Wait Coalition, is calling on policymakers to make a significant investment in Basic Sliding Fee. It is part of a three-pronged approach to making child care more affordable that also includes a targeted increase in the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit and increasing the rates paid to child care providers.
Expanding the availability of affordable child care is a necessity, even for those of us who don’t have kids. Today’s children are tomorrow’s workforce, and today’s parents are today’s employees and entrepreneurs. Child care allows infants and toddlers to thrive, gets pre-schoolers ready for kindergarten, and helps school-age kids learn and grow after school lets out. Mom and dad are able to show up to work, ready to get their jobs done when they know their kids are in a safe, nurturing environment.
Unfortunately, child care is unaffordable for many of Minnesota’s working families. When a parent’s paycheck barely covers rent, health care, transportation, food and other necessities, finding room for child care in a weekly budget feels impossible. Basic Sliding Fee assists families by lowering the cost of child care. A household of three qualifies to start participating in Basic Sliding Fee if they earn about $36,000 or less. At that income level, the average cost of care for an infant in a child care center would claim about 40 percent of a family’s resources.
But Basic Sliding Fee has a 6,500-family waiting list. Some families may have to wait for years before their number is called. In the meantime, they may rely on a family member or neighbor to take care of their child. If that caregiver gets sick or moves away, the parent’s job is placed at risk because they have no safe place for their child. In one survey from Northeastern Minnesota, 20 percent of parents reported being prevented from “accepting or keeping the kind of job [they wanted]” due to child care problems.
Too many low- and middle-income parents are walking on this razor wire, trying to balance the demands of employment and child-rearing. We walk that line in our own homes every day, or see it walked by our families, friends and neighbors. A boost in Basic Sliding Fee Child Care Assistance would mean that more families would have affordable, stable child care that allows parents to succeed at work and children to thrive.