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Opinion | Michigan families urgently need more child care investment

Here’s the truth: Without child care, parents can’t go to work and if they can’t go to work, they aren’t able to pay for child care.

Daniel VanderMolen
Daniel VanderMolen, father of two, is project coordinator for First Steps Kent. (Courtesy photo)

I’ve spent time in both the workforce development sector and child care system over the past 10 years, and these two industries are interrelated. When I was first starting out as a financial coach supporting individuals who were either unemployed or underemployed, one of the first barriers I had to address with almost all my participants was how to navigate looking for work and finding child care.

So how do we solve this?

It was a challenging problem in the best of times, and this was all before a global pandemic upended our daily lives and completely changed our relationship with work.

I can tell you firsthand that the lack of child care burdened our family. Both my spouse and I work full time and have two young children that have been learning from home most of the past 16 months. We have been able to navigate our way through the pandemic with the support of empathetic employers and access to remote work. Not everyone is that fortunate.

As parents continue to face the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19, Michigan families find themselves at a crossroads. A recent survey found two-thirds of Michigan parents say child care is not at all affordable or only affordable with budget trade-offs, like cutting back on health care expenses or food purchases.

The federal government recognized child care was a deterrent to a full economic recovery, which is why Congress authorized billions in funding – with Michigan being on the receiving end of $1.4 billion.

This money can be transformational for Michigan families.

It could mean increased access and affordability of child care. It could mean investing in our child care providers so they can improve the quality of instruction and receive higher pay. More than 60 percent of Michigan parents say child care workers don’t make enough money for the work they do.

We just need Michigan lawmakers to act.

Despite receiving this money months ago, lawmakers in Lansing have barely budged on getting these dollars to Michigan families and child care providers. The need is urgent, yet the money sits.

That recent survey found Michigan parents support bold action at the state level to support families and child care providers, with 77 percent supporting more of the state budget going to help families afford child care by expanding guidelines on who can qualify for state assistance.

It’s clear that the availability of child care is going to be a deciding factor for when, or if, people return to work. The health of Michigan’s economy depends on a workforce that can access safe, affordable, high-quality child care. It’s as simple as that.

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