National report: The past 16 years have not been kind to Minnesotans struggling to afford child care

Ben Horowitz
Feb 03, 2017

Child care helps entire families thrive by providing safe, nurturing environments for kids while allowing parents the opportunity to succeed at work. Far too often, affordable child care is nearly impossible for Minnesota families to find. The state’s Basic Sliding Fee Child Care Assistance is intended to bridge the gap between working families’ earnings and the cost of child care. However, as demonstrated in “Red Light Green Light,” a report from the National Women’s Law Centermassive, never-restored cuts to Basic Sliding Fee in 2001 are still holding families back, 16 years later.

With Basic Sliding Fee, parents pay sliding-scale co-payments every month in exchange for assistance with their child care bills. Basic Sliding Fee has several strengths — it serves families with children up to age 13, and allows each family to find the care that fits their unique needs. However, because the state does not invest enough in this critical resource, Basic Sliding Fee has a waiting list of about 5,600 families struggling to make ends meet, and many more eligible families aren’t included on the list.

The lack of investment by Minnesota in child care assistance affects families in other important ways. Some key takeaways from the “Red Light Green Light” report:

  • Families participating in Basic Sliding Fee are paying more. For example, between 2001 and 2016, the co-payment for a family of three with one child at the federal poverty level rose from $5 to $48 per month.
  • In Basic Sliding Fee in 2001, families’ co-payments combined with the state-funded payment to child care providers covered the market price for child care. Now, the reimbursement rate covers the cost of care at less than a third of the providers in the market.
  • While the cost of child care has risen, the state has actually decreased eligibility for Basic Sliding Fee. In 2001, a family of three qualified for assistance if they earned $42,300 or less; in 2016, families can only begin accessing Basic Sliding Fee if they earn less than $36,400. That’s a difference of nearly $6,000 even without taking inflation into account.
  • The waiting list for Basic Sliding Fee was 2,500 families longer in early 2016 than it was in December 2001.

The cuts to Basic Sliding Fee have burdened families for too long in both metro and Greater Minnesota communities. Minnesota’s House of Representatives have convened a Subcommittee on Childcare Access and Affordability this legislative session; “Red Light Green Light” presents strong evidence that re-investing in families through Basic Sliding Fee should be a big part of their conversation.

-Ben Horowitz