(Updated 3:32 p.m.)
Federal funding has helped child care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that monetary influx is about to dry up.
Additional state assistance could be coming via a pair of proposals heard on an informational basis Friday by the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Division. They are expected to be introduced as a bill for Monday’s special session.
“We need to keep our critical child care providers open to continue providing care, especially for essential workers,” said Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), who chairs the division and sponsors both proposals. “… The other half is affordability and making sure that low-income families, many of whom are essential workers, can receive assistance in paying for this care as well, and many on are the waiting list.
“This, in my view, is not a time for folks who are working in low-income jobs, which are essential jobs — long-term care, working in hospitals, grocery stores, gas stations, keeping things going — continue to be on the waiting list. Getting funding for their child care will boost our critical child care providers even more.”
Concern over the funding issue reaches across House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“I’m hearing of kids being left home alone during the day,” said Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria). “… We don’t want children growing up home alone.”
The first proposal would appropriate $53.1 million from the General Fund to help eligible child care providers who have been receiving federal assistance to meet state and federal guidance related to COVID-19.
Eligible providers have received monthly support since July; however, the federal source of those dollars expires this month. Proposed state funds would be available this month along with January and February 2021.
State funds available in December 2020 would be in addition to federal dollars the provider has already received.
A licensed child care center could receive up to $8,500 each month; a licensed family child care provider could receive up to $1,200 per month; and a certified, license-exempt child care center would receive no state funds in December and be capped at $3,000 in both January and February 2021.
“These funds are a lifeline to providers who receive them — something stable and predictable when little else is,” Clare Sanford, government relations chair of the Minnesota Child Care Association, wrote in a letter to the division. “Many of our members say they would not be operating today without the supports received, and that their immediate future depends on their continuation.”
Rep. Josh Heintzeman (R-Nisswa) was among members urging inclusion of language that federal funds, if made available, would replace state funds.
Basic sliding fee change
The other proposal would modify the state’s basic sliding fee program — that helps families pay for child care while they work, look for work, or attend training or school to prepare for work — with an $11.5 million onetime appropriation.
According to a summary from the nonpartisan House Research Department, “In Minnesota, child care assistance is divided into two programs: Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) child care assistance; and Basic Sliding Fee (BSF) child care assistance. … MFIP child care assistance is fully funded, which means everyone who is eligible for it receives it. In contrast, BSF child care assistance receives a capped allocation, and not everyone who is eligible for it receives it. Families may join a waiting list for BSF if funding is insufficient.”
The bulk of the money — $9.98 million — would increase the number of families who can move from the program’s waiting list to receive assistance. The remainder would fund the extended time families receive MFIP child care assistance while waiting to receive BSF child care assistance.
Reporting extension for free and reduced-price lunches
The House Education Finance Division also considered a pandemic-related measure during an informational hearing Friday.
It would give the state’s school districts additional time to report applications for educational benefits like free and reduced-price lunches. Sponsored by Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls), the division chair, the proposed legislation would push the due date back to Jan. 4, 2021 from Dec. 15, 2020.
In a normal school year, school officials would have plenty of access to students and their parents, Davnie said, easing the collection of signed applications for the benefits. But given the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying switch to distance learning, collection of those applications has been made far more difficult, he said.
“It’s a valuable part of our education formula,” Davnie said. “This [proposed extension] allows schools and districts to make sure they have as full and accurate data as possible reported to [the Department of Education].”
- House Public Information Services’ Jon Avise contributed to this story