GRAND RAPIDS — Even as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, quality child care remains hard to come by for many Michigan families. That’s due in part to providers who left the field and didn’t return — and a handful of Michigan organizations hope to use new state grants to reverse the trend.
The state earlier this month awarded $2.4 million in child care planning grants from the Early Childhood Investment Corp.’s Child Care Innovation Fund. The money will go to 16 groups across Michigan to develop strategies to quell the child care shortage. Each group will receive $150,000 apiece, part of $12.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding the ECIC received in August.
The grantees, by MEDC region, are:
- Region 1, Upper Peninsula: UPWARD Talent Council
- Region 2, Northwest: Networks Northwest
- Region 3, Northeast: Northeast Michigan Council of Governments and Develop Iosco Inc.
- Region 4, West Michigan: The Right Place Inc./Vibrant Futures, United Way of the Lakeshore and Ottawa Area Intermediate School District
- Region 5, East Central Michigan: Middle Michigan Development Corp.
- Region 6, East Michigan: Flint and Genesee Chamber Foundation and Huron County Economic Development Corp.
- Region 7, South Central: Lansing Economic Area Partnership
- Region 8, Southwest: Pulse at W.E. Upjohn Institute of Employment Research
- Region 9, Southeast Michigan: Lenawee Economic Development Corporation and Ann Arbor Spark
- Region 10, Metro Detroit: Macomb County Planning and Economic Development and IFF/Hope Starts Here
The West Michigan grant recipients — The Right Place/Vibrant Futures, United Way of the Lakeshore and Ottawa Area Intermediate School District — said they’re eager to get started.
“There’s this power in child care that I think we’ve long-term overlooked, that it really is uniquely positioned to spark catalytic transformation,” said Chana Edmond-Verley, CEO of Vibrant Futures. Her nonprofit’s grant with The Right Place will cover planning efforts in Kent, Barry, Ionia, Montcalm and Mecosta counties.
Next week, the two organizations plan to launch The Coalition to Expand Child Care Supply. The group will bring together consultants, project coordinators, employers, business associations, providers and parents to solicit actionable ideas for closing the region's child care gap.
Tackling compensation issues
Edmond-Verley hopes the new coalition will build on Caring for MI Future, a state program announced last year by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that provides pre-licensure, startup and facility improvement grants to existing or new child care entrepreneurs.
But Edmond-Verley also hopes the coalition can tackle the underlying compensation issue in child care, including how to raise the standard of living for providers so it's a more appealing field of work.
She said Vibrant Future is conducting a child care needs assessment that should be ready by May 1 that will digitally map the demand in each county of focus.
Mecosta County, for instance, is anticipating an influx of nearly 2,700 workers with the proposed Gotion EV battery plant, but the county currently has only about 25 child care providers, she said.
“How are folks going to get to work?” she said. “... For some counties, we don’t have any child care, and we’re going to think wildly outside the box.”
Getting creative with limited funding
Christine Robere, president and CEO of United Way of the Lakeshore, said her organization will use its grant to hire a full-time coordinator to meet with daycare providers, parents and businesses in the five counties the money is designated for — Muskegon, Oceana, Newaygo, Lake and Mason. It will be that person’s job to hear each party’s needs and work toward a solution.
United Way of the Lakeshore last studied the child care issue in 2015. Back then, it found that subsidies for providers were far lower than the costs to serve per family, Robere said.
But over the past five to seven years, those subsidies have increased.
In January, the state temporarily raised the income qualification for subsidized child care from 185 percent of the federal poverty level to 200 percent, which helped families that couldn’t previously afford it. In that same month, provider subsidy rates were increased by 30 percent, along with additional temporary increases. The changes are spelled out in the state’s Child Development and Care Handbook, but it doesn’t specify when they may be rolled back.
Other options have also been introduced recently, like the state’s Tri-Share Program. The initiative splits the cost of care between the parent, employer and state for ALICE families — asset-limited, income-constrained, and employed — who earn 200 percent to 325 percent of the federal poverty level.
Robere said she’d like to see other creative ideas like Tri-Share on the table. One example is zoning reform that would allow child care centers in locations where they’re currently barred from operating. Another is better marketing of the profession to prospective talent and removal of barriers for existing entrepreneurs.
“We’re still in a place where (we need to understand) what else needs to happen. Why are so few people getting into the child care business, and what would it take to get more people to choose to be in that profession?” she said.
Different counties, different needs
Tami Mannes, director of early childhood services for Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, said her group will use its grant in partnership with educators, businesses, families, and the economic development organization Lakeshore Advantage. The money, designated for Ottawa and Allegan counties, will go toward data gathering and hiring project staff to make sure voices are heard in both counties.
“The needs in Allegan County might look really different than some of the needs in (Ottawa) County,” she said, noting that the two communities have different demographics and industries.
The first task will be to build capacity: For every open child care slot in her area, there are two or three kids in need, she said. And many of the families that work in manufacturing need second- or third-shift care, which isn’t widely available.
Mannes said there are some good state tax incentives for early childhood providers, but more are needed. And she echoed Robere on removing hurdles at the local level, like zoning and licensing for providers.
“The initial six months is really exploratory, and then (we’ll be) digging into how do we create solutions to the barriers we have?” she said.
From Crain’s Detroit Business.