After returning over $20m of Child Care and Development Funds to the federal government in 2016, Michigan's Governor has proposed a 2018 budget plan that will ensure the entirety of the Federal child care funds available to the state are drawn. The proposed strategy included a plan to increase the child care provider rates AND increase the income eligibility level for child care subsidy from 125% to 130% of the federal poverty level. This is definitely a time for celebration, as our policy makers begin to recognize that the extremely low levels of compensation in our state are creating mountains of barriers for genuine, hard-working child care businesses.
The attempts to move in this direction have felt like a tug-of-war...with educating the next generation of leaders on one end...and all the other factors that result from not having quality, healthy development on the other end. Those resulting issues have won the battle until this point. The understanding of the value and impact the early years of life can have on a child, a family and the community is beginning to take root. The budget development process went from a game of tug-of-war to teeter-totter while Michigan's legislative bodies reframed the language from a 20% increase for child care provider rates to solely fund an increase in child care subsidy eligibility rates. Both are worthy of the investment.
“There should be some balance between the two initiatives…to have more eligible children in quality environments with well-compensated providers.”
Early childhood providers in Michigan are primarily women and are currently receiving one of the lowest reimbursement rates in the country. Providers who primarily serve low-income communities are passionately over-worked and desiring of increased opportunity to invest in their staff, business, program quality, and ultimately, the children served. It is nearly impossible to maintain a workforce of certified individuals who serve the role of teacher, social worker, and nurturer for the state's youngest most, promising minds when they are faced with a decision to stay in a field they love or feed their families.
Michigan’s childcare eligibility levels are also among the lowest in the country, with families qualifying at or below 125% of the federal poverty level. Access to child care is about economic mobility for women who now make up an increasing percentage of the workforce. In addition, many families are unable to accept raises, jobs advancements or entry positions because they are just above the eligibility level. These are hard decisions for parents who want the best for their children…working overtime or multiple jobs to make the circumstances different for their babies. Increasing eligibility levels could provide a little of breathing room for thousands of families.
Both issues are equally important to address because many early learning teachers currently qualify to receive the child care subsidy themselves. How does one choose? The budget recommendations as released last week validate the delicate balance between the two initiatives. It seems we are making significant progress toward increasing the health and development of Michigan's youngest children.
Although there is no wrong answer with this seemingly teeter-tottery balance finding decision, we should build our strength for the next tug-of-war game while we await the results…as there is extensive advocacy, coordination and systems building to be done to ensure ALL Michigan’s children have access to the highest quality program environments.