Child Care Roundtable: What Minnesota Is Doing to Increase Availability of High-Quality, Affordable Child Care
Commissioners of DEED and DHS join Children’s Cabinet, advocates and providers to discuss helpful programs and strategies
April 8, 2021
St. Paul – On Monday, Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove and Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead were joined by staff of the Minnesota Children’s Cabinet and child care advocates and providers at a roundtable to discuss challenges providers have faced during the pandemic and the importance of high-quality, affordable child care in Minnesota’s economic recovery.
This roundtable was part of a broader series of discussions the agency is hosting called “The Next Minnesota Economy,” focusing on inclusive economic growth, reskilling our labor market and creating good jobs.
“We are about 80,000 slots short in the state of Minnesota for child care right now, and it is one of the Governor’s and Lt. Governor’s big goals for their administration to drastically increase the number of slots we have in Minnesota so kids and their families have more access to child care,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove. “DEED has made this a big area of focus through our Child Care Economic Development Grant Program and a big part of our ask for this legislative session is more money for that grant program.”
DEED also announced last week that the Small Business Development Centers at DEED will partner with First Children’s Finance to provide statewide assistance to help child care businesses.
“I particularly appreciate all the providers who have sacrificed to help Minnesota prepare for and persevere through the COVID-19 pandemic,” said DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead. “Because child care providers stepped up to the task of caring for and educating our youngest Minnesotans, first responders and health care workers were able to stay on the job when we needed them to be….We are grateful and inspired by you and all that you have done.”
“Public health supports are one way that the state – and the Department of Human Services – have invested in child care providers – and those grants have reached more than 8,300 providers since they started last July,” said Stephanie Hogenson, policy director, Minnesota Children’s Cabinet, who moderated the discussion.
Jenny Holweger, executive director, Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA, explained how the YMCA used community fundraising and grants – including a $50,000 Child Care Economic Development Grant from DEED – to raise the $826,000 needed to turn an empty space in a mall in Spicer, Minn., into a child care center. That center opened in December 2019. “We opened and immediately lost many of our children due to the closures from the pandemic and parents staying home with kids,” said Holweger.
Still, they’ve been able to concentrate on service to essential workers and the location has been convenient for parents because it includes a grocery store and fitness center. “We gave parents some ability to have other resources right there,” said Holweger. “Lately, a coffee shop went in in the parking lot, so now, it’s a one-stop shop with drive-thru coffee on their way out.”
Among the difficulties and uncertainties caused by the pandemic have been parents being furloughed or having their hours changed, as well as the additional cost of supplies – such as cleaning and protective equipment, said Ariane Bromberg, a licensed family child care provider in Rochester and member of the Minnesota Family Child Care Task Force. “Even now, we can face potential shutdowns – and lost income – due to a COVID exposure.”
At Pine Pals Intergenerational Learning Center in Bemidji, the center is licensed for 96 children. “We’re at about 75% capacity right now – and full for infants. Part of it is just trying to keep our group sizes smaller due to COVID,” said Director Lydia Pietruszewski. The center was developed to provide intergenerational experiences for children and seniors in an adjacent residential care facility under the same ownership. Despite the pandemic, “we take the kids next door and visit outside the windows,” she said. “They have an intercom and so our preschoolers and toddlers can talk to their ‘grandfriends.’”
Workforce staffing concerns – and the need to grow the number of people entering the child care profession – was discussed.
“This is a profession and it needs to be treated like a profession where we are encouraging young people and provide training opportunities, career development and then support for [child care] businesses so that we can afford to pay them what they deserve to be paid,” said Lori Semke, executive director, Mis Amigos Spanish Immersion Preschool, which currently has three locations in the Twin Cities metro area.
Businesses are very interested in helping solve the shortage of child care slots but, given the investment involved, they would like to see more flexibility and innovation in child care delivery options – such as the ability for employers to have up to four child care licenses, said Erin Echternach, assistant director, Greater Bemidji, and a member of the Minnesota Family Child Care Task Force.
“We absolutely treat this as a business retention and expansion issue,” said Scott Marquart, senior vice president, Southwest Initiative Foundation in Hutchinson, Minn., and a member of the Minnesota Family Child Care Task Force.
“I was in a meeting a couple of weeks ago and the statement made there was basically: ‘Child care is the business that ensures other businesses stay in business,’” added Marquart. “This is critical for us to recover as a state and for us to continue to compete globally.”
You can watch a recording of the Child Care Roundtable on DEED’s YouTube page.
DEED is the state's principal economic development agency, promoting business recruitment, expansion and retention, workforce development, international trade and community development. For more details about the agency and its services, visit the DEED website or follow us on Twitter.