Abigail Guerrero and her daughter during the first day of preschool at Matrix Head Start on Sept. 7, 2021 | Ken Coleman
Carrie Anderson, owner and director of Morning Star Child Care in Dexter, has worked in the childcare industry for over 25 years. While she loves her job, she has grappled with some of the perils that come along with the industry: low wages, insufficient amounts of staffing and making it affordable for parents.
Now there are several state and national plans that aim to help reform and support the childcare industry. The new state budget includes $1.4 billion for cost stabilization and childcare center support effort. President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan also has support for families seeking childcare.
And an eight-bill package passed by the Michigan House this month reforms Michigan’s childcare system by helping families in seeking care, as well as providing assistance to in-home childcare providers, specifically.
“This is one of the few glorious moments that we have, where everybody’s kind of on the same page,” said state Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi), who sponsored one of the bills. “We now realize in the light of this pandemic, that childcare is something that a lot of us working parents have known for a while, is a crisis.”
Anderson said that childcare centers and in-home daycares “run 100% on parent tuition” and that the state has been in need of childcare reform. The state has 4,457 preschool and child care centers. She said the House bills will finally start to provide relief for in-home childcare providers and bring issues in the childcare industry as a whole to the forefront of lawmakers’ minds.
“It’s been a long-neglected conversation,” Anderson said. “It’s nice that it’s finally being recognized for the important industry that it is. The funding is definitely long overdue. I’m very hopeful that it goes to the right places to where it really can make a difference for families and mostly for childcare providers.”
Anderson said specific attention is needed when it comes to staffing daycare centers and increasing wages in the industry. About 11.8% of childcare workers’ families live below the poverty line, making them twice as likely to live below the poverty line compared to other workers’ families. According to the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, the median wage for child care workers in 2019 was $11.13. In 2020, childcare workers made an average of $12.24 per hour according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The hardest thing is staffing,” Anderson said. “There’s a shortage everywhere of people looking for jobs. And this has always been a very hard industry to find people to work in, because it is a very difficult and [are] low paying job. Since the pandemic, it’s been even more difficult to hire people. There’s been a lot of childcare centers that are shutting down.”
A median childcare worker would have to put 49% of their earnings toward infant care in order to afford it.
The cost of childcare is also prohibitive for Michigan families, which face an average annual cost of $10,861, translating to $905 a month, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
Infant care costs are 6.7% above the cost of average rent, per EPI, a left-leaning think tank. For a typical Michigan family with one child, infant care costs would compose 19% of that family’s income. For those with an infant with an additional 4-year-old in the house, childcare costs about $19,751 — equating to about 34.6% of the typical family’s income.
A poll released last month from the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation and Lansing-based Michigan’s Children and carried out by Lake Research Partners found that 62% of the 800 people surveyed said they supported an increase in public funding for children. The poll, conducted from July 27 to Aug. 3, found that 58% of respondents said they would vote to increase their taxes if more funding were to be sent to programs supporting youth.
State budget funding
In the state’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget that went into effect Oct. 1, $1.4 billion was pumped into the state’s childcare system.
The budget mostly utilizes federal COVID-19 aid dollars to close funding gaps that have hurt early childhood employees and left a vacuum for “childcare deserts” — areas where there is little to no access to childcare like the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan. About $100 million will help childcare centers open in childcare deserts.
About half of the $1.4 billion will go towards stabilization grants to help childcare providers stay afloat as they emerge from the pandemic. An estimated $36.5 million will go to providers who help infants and toddlers and help stabilize funding through contracts. childcare workers will also receive a $1,000 bonus.
Under the budget, about 105,000 more children in the state will also be able to receive low- or no-cost childcare. About $108 million will be utilized to expand income eligibility for the child care subsidy program while another $158 million will be used to expand reimbursement rates for providers taking part in the child care subsidy program.
When signing the budget in September, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer touted that it expands childcare and called it “a budget that puts Michiganders first.”
Michigan House bills
While House Bills 5041-5048 do not lower childcare costs or provide funding for childcare providers like the budget or Build Back Better plan do, the bills help reform the way childcare centers are funded and legal practices revolving around them.
House Bill 5041, introduced by Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann), expands the caregiver to child ratio from 1:6 to 1:7. The intent of the bill, according to O’Malley, was to add another slot for a child while also giving providers an expanded opportunity to earn more money.
House Bill 5042 introduced by Rep. Greg VanWoerkom (R-Norton Shores) and 5045, introduced by Rep. Rodney Wakeman (R-Saginaw Twp.) are aimed at changing the laws surrounding penalties faced by childcare providers. HB 5042 mandates that childcare centers disclose their owners in order to prevent a former center who received violations from changing their name and location. HB 5045 establishes that if a facility received a complaint that went on to be dismissed, the charge will no longer be on their record after three years.
House Bill 5043, introduced by Breen, establishes liaisons in every region across the state to help train, prepare and network with other childcare facilities. House Bill 5044, introduced by Rep. Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton Twp.) enables childcare providers to be funded with federal childcare and development block grant requirements.
House Bill 5046, introduced by Rep. Gregory Markkanen (R-Hancock), makes the Department of Health and Human Services and Licensing and Regulatory Affairs responsible for drafting and communicating rules for a child organization.
House Bills 5047, introduced by Rep. Julie Calley (R-Portland), and 5048, introduced by Rep. John Roth (R-Traverse City) ensure records from childcare centers are maintained through the Michigan Department of Education’s database of licensing records and that childcare centers notify the DOE if they are in a multi-occupancy building.
O’Malley said the bills are just the first of many to come to help address issues in childcare in the state, but recognized “there are more things to work on.”
“We want the daycare providers and the parents and the employers to know that we’re actually heard them, and help is on the way,” O’Malley said. “After all these years, we’re actually getting something done. Let’s do things that will help bring back and sustain childcare, and reverse really decades of pushing childcare out of the way.”
Annette Sobocinski, executive director of childcare Network and Great Start to Quality Southeast Resource Center, said each bill will have a significant impact on in-home childcare centers where government support is especially needed.
“Oftentimes, home providers can feel very isolated,” Sobocinski said. “And so the opportunity to be able to give them more support and help them access more resources, I think is going to be a huge benefit to them, and then also to the families that they serve.”
Breen said these bills have broad bipartisan support and that lawmakers across the aisle recognize the “crisis” at hand. She said these bills are the first step to helping childcare providers and families to afford childcare in the state. She added that the package will work in tandem with the stimulus dollars to provide much-needed support to families in need of childcare and childcare providers in need of relief.
“[The] package is going to work I think hand in hand with what’s happening with the stimulus dollars,” Breen said. “I think everybody sort of agrees that this is an area where we’re going to be spending more money and more time rather than less because compared to where we are worldwide. We are not doing enough. We just are not doing enough, and you want people to go back to work. They need to know that their kids are safe.”
Build Back Better plan
While childcare reform is being pushed to the forefront of minds in the Michigan Legislature, lawmakers at the federal level are also taking notice.
In Biden’s Build Back Better plan, a proposed $450 billion would be allocated to pay for preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds. The bill also would subsidize childcare on a sliding scale and cap expenditures to 7% of annual income for middle-class families. Grants would also be utilized to steady childcare facilities and incentivize them to raise wages for their employees.
The Build Back Better plan is currently stalled in a closely divided Congress, as Republicans oppose it and centrist Democrats like U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) have demanded cuts. The holdup on the plan also comes as the House is grappling with the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has said that childcare is considered affordable if it equates to 7% of a family’s income. With these findings, only 9.3% of families in Michigan have the ability to afford infant care.
If childcare reform were to cap a families’ childcare expenses to 7% of their income, Michigan families would save $6,609 on childcare expenses. Not only would this also free up 14.2% of their annual income, it would also supply 44,489 more parents with the option to enter the workforce. This could subsequently grow Michigan’s economy by .9% and generate $4.6 billion in new economic activity.
Sobocinski said legislators should continue to find ways to support childcare providers and families in need of childcare.
“This is a bipartisan issue, it is not a left or right issue,” Sobocinski said. “It is something that impacts everybody. … Knowing that there’s broad support in the general public helps legislators [and] businesses. I think [they] are starting to come on board with realizing how important it is. There’s no downside to investing in childcare.”
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