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An Echo Press Editorial: New bills address child care crisis

Parents of young children throughout Douglas County know how difficult it is to find child care.

There are not as many options as there once was. Many providers, fed up with constantly changing and burdensome regulations, along with rising costs, choose to leave the industry.

Even those who don't have children are impacted by the shortage.

As Justin Dahlheimer, a community leader in Osakis, pointed out in his Osakis Review column this week, the lack of child care at an economical price is limiting the local workforce. He noted that a family's decision to have more than one child often brings up the conversation of, "Should I just quit my job and stay home?" Doing so would take a skilled person out of the workforce for a period of time, Dahlheimer noted.

Regulations, Dahlheimer wrote, are what wears out longtime providers and creates initial barriers for new providers. Just this past year, a group was looking into to putting a daycare in downtown Osakis, but the plan lost momentum because of a lengthy regulatory process, he said.

But there may be some hope on the horizon. New bipartisan legislation is being introduced at the state Capitol that addresses the child care crisis in Greater Minnesota.

Senate File 537/House File 422, authored by Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, and Rep. Jeff Brand, DFL-St.Peter, and SF 538/HF 423, authored by Sen. Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud, and Rep. Brand, create and fund new grant programs with the shared goal of increasing child care capacity while fostering successful and sustainable child care business operations.

The Greater Minnesota Partnership, an economic development advocacy organization that has been working with legislators to explore ways to address child care needs, supports the measures.

"Communities and businesses are reeling from the effects of the child care shortage," said Nicole Griensewic Mickelson, president of the partnership. "These bills are a promising start to bringing more child care options to Greater Minnesota and helping providers run successful businesses."

While the child care shortage is a major concern across the entire state, the impact is particularly acute in rural communities. Griensewic Mickelson cited a study by the Center for Rural Policy and Development that showed Greater Minnesota lost more than 15,000 child care spots between 2006-15, largely due to a significant decline in in-home providers. Child care centers have helped make up for the loss of in-home providers in the metro area and larger population centers, but small and medium-sized rural communities are still struggling to fill that void, Griensewic Mickelson said.

The new legislation would provide $3 million in grants to the Minnesota Initiative Foundations for the planning, coordination, training and education necessary to expand child care access. The money will be used to help providers with business improvement planning, quality mentoring and workforce development.

The bills would also generate more physical spaces for child care through the Child Care

Capital Grant Program. It provides grants to child care providers, local governments and

regional economic development organizations in Greater Minnesota to cover up to 50 percent of

the costs to build, upgrade or expand child care facilities to increase capacity and meet state

requirements. The program would be funded at $10 million under the bill.

Griensewic Mickelson realizes the legislation won't immediately sold the problem but it's at least a step in the right direction. "The child care shortage is a complex problem and there is no silver bullet," she said, "but we're hopeful that the Legislature will support these two bills that go hand-in-hand toward the same goal of finding a long-term solution to the child care crisis in Greater Minnesota."