By Sen. Adam Hollier
Between COVID-19, an economic crisis, and disruptions to work and life, the last year and a half has been incredibly difficult for millions of Michigan families. Complicating all these forces was a lack of access to high-quality, affordable childcare options for working parents who dutifully reported to work in person or who set up virtual offices at home while simultaneously taking care of their young children. This caused millions of working parents, predominantly women, to cut back their hours or quit their jobs altogether in order to provide care to their young children.
Between higher expenses to keep teachers, babies, and toddlers safe and declining enrollment, the pandemic pushed America’s childcare industry to the brink of collapse. Thankfully, the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress earlier this year has helped provide some stability, however, too few available providers, meager wages for early childhood educators, and unaffordable costs for families continue to leave the childcare industry exceedingly vulnerable. As we work to rebuild from the pandemic and continue the unprecedented economic growth we’ve realized in recent months, it is imperative that Congress pass the Build Back Better Act to, finally, make overdue investments to guarantee all families have access to high-quality, affordable childcare.
According to an analysis from the Center for American Progress, 44% of Michiganders currently live in childcare deserts, meaning that for every childcare slot locally available, there are at least three times as many babies and toddlers. This lack of supply not only makes it incredibly difficult for families to find childcare, it also drives up the costs — causing the typical Michigan family with young children to spend $239 a week, or about $12,500 a year, on childcare. To make matters worse, these high costs are despite the average childcare worker in Michigan earning just $11.60 an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. So, while these educators provide essential care and educational experiences for our children, the ability for providers to pay them more is limited by families’ inability to pay more for tuition. These costs are prohibitive for families and deny access to early learning opportunities for millions of children across our state, particularly those in Black and brown families due to systemic racism and economic injustice. That’s just wrong – we can do better.
That’s why in Michigan, we just made a historic $1.4 billion investment in childcare. Earlier this week, Governor Whitmer signed the Fiscal Year 2022 budget after almost a year of ongoing negotiations with the House and Senate. The final budget deal includes the following key investments in childcare:
- $108 million to provide childcare to at least 105,000 more children by increasing the Child Development and Care (CDC) subsidy program to 185% of the FPL from 150% through September of 2023 (and 160% ongoing thereafter).
- $700 million in stabilization grants to help childcare providers including additional start-up, technical assistance, and facility improvements.
- $222 million for a temporary rate increase for childcare providers.
- $158 million for a permanent 30% rate increase for childcare providers.
- $100 million to open new childcare centers in underserved areas, as well as expand existing centers.
- $117 million to pay providers based on enrollment instead of attendance through fiscal year 2023.
- $36 million to expand the number of spaces for infants and toddlers (over 3 years).
- $30 million for a one-time $1,000 bonus for childcare staff.
- $13 million to waive parental co-pays through fiscal year 2022.
We also launched the MI Tri-Share Pilot earlier this year, which is a cost-share program between employers, employees, and the State of Michigan to pay for the cost of childcare.
It’s also why Congress must seize the moment and shore up childcare in America, a sector that makes all other work possible, by passing the Build Back Better Act’s childcare guarantee and universal preschool provisions. The plan would cap how much working families pay for childcare between zero and 7% of their household income, compensate early educators like the essential professionals they are, and invest in upgrading and building more childcare infrastructure. In Michigan, that would cut childcare costs for the typical family down nearly 47%, a savings of $112 every week or more than $5,800 every year. That means more money in families’ bank accounts that can be spent at Michigan small businesses and enable more parents to reenter the workforce. It also supports families’ ability to choose a welcoming learning environment for their child(ren).
By creating a more resilient workforce, improving families’ financial security, and expanding learning opportunities for children, the Build Back Better Act would boost economic growth and ensure more families can reap the gains. Put simply, Congress must deliver.