Solutions sought for high child care costs

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By SARAH ATWOOD
Capital News Service

LANSING — Some Michigan families pay more for child care than their monthly housing costs.

“If a parent has an infant or toddler, child care expenses can be thousands of dollars a month,” said Joan Blough, the senior director of the Child Care Innovation Fund. “People are paying more than their mortgage or rent to make sure their children get the care they need.”

Child care advocates are calling for more government help.

Recently, the state directed federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act to child care providers across the state. The money was intended to stabilize those providers and keep them from having to close, according to Blough.

Kimberly Clark is a director of one of the facilities that received these grants.

The Longview Early Childhood Center in Midland, where she works, used the money during the pandemic. Now Clark worries about what will happen when the funding stops.

“We were able to cover staff bonuses and benefits with the money,” Clark said. “But this wasn’t enough to retain the staff we need, which is concerning.”

Providers could apply for a Regional Child Care Coalition grant, which partners child care providers with economic development organizations in the area. According to Blough, child care centers lack access to capital and economic growth.

“Without government grants, child care providers would not be able to expand their services and increase access to more children.” Blough said. 

The goal of the project is to improve the economic development of an area alongside the child care services, Blough said.

This greatly reduces the pressure on a single provider to solve the problem of accessibility by itself, and would allow them to have more revenue sources outside of tuition, enabling parents to pay less.

According to Alicia Guevara Warren, the senior director of policy at the Early Childhood Investment Corp., providers rarely make a profit from the money they charge for tuition and fees.

“It’s expensive to provide the high quality care that parents want,” Guevara Warren said. “But child care workers have a hard time surviving on their salaries. Both these issues need to be solved without putting an extra burden on parents.”

Blough agreed.

“Child care providers have to meet licensing requirements to be certified,” Blough said. “Not only this, but equipment for the children is needed. Tiny desks and chairs cost a lot.”

Blough continued: “If there’s a curriculum, that costs money. Healthy food and providing for dietary restrictions costs money. This means that staff often do not get paid a fair, livable wage.”

Raising the price of child care is out of the question. According to Blough, providers charge “what the market can bear” and what parents are willing and able to pay.

For child care administrators, the new grants and projects are a hopeful sign.

“We have lots of irons in the fire when it comes to these funds, so to speak,” Clark said. “We want to apply for everything we can in order to get the most money possible to continue providing quality care.”