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Proposal would increase upper income limit for child care assistance

Paying for child care should not be about choosing not to work and staying at home. But experts say that’s what’s happening to families who make a bit more than the maximum income required to receive state child care assistance.

Without access to affordable child care, many women wouldn’t be able to work or they might need to cut work hours to remain eligible for receiving child care assistance, Terress James, a mother of three children told the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday.

“Do I miss a raise or lose my child care?” said James.

Raises are never enough to pay for child care out of her own pocket, and the current income limit doesn’t reflect the reality of child care costs, she said.

Sponsored by Rep. Liz Boldon (DFL-Rochester), HF3861 would expand upper income eligibility for child care assistance from 67% to 85% of the state median income — $75,671 to $96,001 for a family of four in today’s dollars — and establish a co-payment requirement of 14% of family income for families between the two percentages. Current co-payment rates range from zero to 14% depending on income

The bill, as amended, was laid over for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

Without child care assistance, many families are unable to get access to reliable child care, said Amanda Schillinger, director of Pumpkin Patch Childcare and Learning Center in Burnsville. “We have approximately 96 families enrolled in our programs and 45 of those currently receive child care assistance. However, the number of families struggling to afford child care is so much larger than that. We have had at least 20 families who have either left our program or have considered leaving because they no longer could afford child care.”

Families who live paycheck to paycheck making slightly more than the current cap often struggle to take care of their child care needs and other expenses, she said, adding that raising the income eligibility limit for child care assistance to the 85th percentile is a much needed step to help Minnesota families.

But not all the committee members seemed to agree. Rep. Brian Daniels (R-Faribault) said increasing eligibility for high income earners is not “good optics,” and Rep. Tony Jurgens (R-Cottage Grove) questioned who would pay for the proposed change.

The bill’s companion, SF3908, sponsored by Sen. Melissa Wiklund (DFL-Bloomington), awaits action by the Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee.

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