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Opinion: Michigan families need – and deserve – high quality child care

The issue of child care is a big one for Michigan families.

Access is a key component and we have been losing that fight. The number of available care providers in Michigan is down 30 percent and I would say that estimate is lighter recently – especially for in-home providers.

Rep. Jack O’Malley, of Lake Ann,
Rep. Jack O’Malley, of Lake Ann, is a Republican in his second term in the Michigan House serving the 101st District, which includes Leelanau, Benzie, Manistee and Mason counties. (Courtesy photo)

This issue was staring us in the face before COVID-19. The pandemic merely brought it out into the open as it did so many other issues. The family has also changed. It is more common to have two people in the household who work full-time. It is simply no longer practical to expect every family to watch their own like they did 30-40 years ago.

Related: Lack of child care now a ‘crisis’ facing Michigan’s workforce

It is past time to develop real solutions that are going to help families by getting them the reliable care they need while eliminating tough choices that are permeating throughout our society regarding this problem.

When people don’t have reliable access to care, they have to ask themselves if they need to take time away from their job – potentially without pay – to care for their child. They may have to burn through vacation days to make things work, or they may take themselves out of the workforce entirely for the sake of convenience.

These shouldn’t be choices that people have to make, but they are every day that we don’t work to fix this.

I have personally worked across the aisle throughout this current legislative term on impactful reforms, including with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s team and her Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. The bills have sponsors from both parties. Some tough negotiations were had, but we have a solid legislative package and I appreciate the hard work of everybody involved.

Common-sense regulatory reforms include measures such as a safe path for providers to locate in multi-use buildings to expand access, allowing providers to share certain health and safety records online to help parents access information, enhanced reporting requirements and more concise regulation to let high-quality providers thrive while bad actors are held accountable.

It was clear when examining this problem that overregulation was a major contributor to limited care options. Safety is vitally important. We want to make sure our children are safe when we leave them for the day. In this pursuit, we’ve overcorrected and regulated providers out of the industry. We can be more thorough in pinpointing needed regulation while not chasing caregivers away.

These reforms come on the heels of a workgroup formed at the start of the term consisting of lawmakers, caregivers and members of the governor’s team. The goal was straightforward: prioritize improving the state’s childcare system. Tackling this makes life easier for families and boosts our economy.

When we unveiled the legislation at the state Capitol, the governor said these bills were a good start. There is definitely more needed, as this package won’t and can’t fix it all. Administrative rule changes and appropriation are also important parts of this equation.

But parents and grandparents should know that state government has heard the calls for help and we have stepped up to respond. Access to child care close to home and work is what many in Michigan not only need, but deserve.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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