Opinion: Parents, employers and Michigan split cost of child care? You bet!
Every day, somewhere in Michigan, a working parent is sitting down at the kitchen table to wrestle with their family’s budget. For parents with younger children, that budget often involves a massive line item for child care costs, which can exceed $10,000 annually per child. As more of our state’s workforce is called back into in-person workspaces, decisions around working, child care and financial priorities are even more critical and nuanced.
Child care is just as important to working dads as it is for working moms. As a married father of three and a single mom who raised a daughter on her own, we both agree that making quality child care more available and more affordable is both urgent and essential to Michigan’s post-pandemic economic recovery.
That’s why we’re encouraged by the overwhelming statewide interest in the MI Tri-Share Child Care Pilot Program, an innovative approach to increasing access to high quality, affordable child care for working families that also helps remove a barrier to employment and helps employers retain talent. Through Tri-Share, the cost of child care is shared equally by an eligible employee, their employer, and the State of Michigan, with coordination provided regionally by a facilitator hub.
Funded with a $1 million 2020-21 budget appropriation, the Tri-Share pilot program is administered by the Michigan Women’s Commission, housed within the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, and is currently underway in three regions of the state: Muskegon County, the Great Lakes Bay Region, and a five-county rural region in Northwest Lower Michigan. Facilitator hubs in each region are actively working with local employers to identify eligible employees and to help connect those employees with child care providers that meet the unique needs of each family.
Since announcing the pilot, interest has poured in from nearly every corner of the state. This cost-sharing model appears to be a game-changing approach to adequately funding child care and making it more affordable for at least one subset of working parents. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer doubled the funding request for the Tri-Share pilot in her 2021-22 budget proposal, and both chambers of the Michigan Legislature are considering a funding boost in the ongoing budget negotiations. This bipartisan approach has the potential to expand the program to more regions and more employees, and to continue educating policymakers about the impact affordable, accessible child care has for both employees and employers.
Tri-Share is proving to be one innovative way that the state and employers can partner to support both working fathers and working mothers. We look forward to learning more from the Tri-Share pilot program and informing further innovations that will help more families spend a little less time wrestling with decisions around work, child care and financial priorities and a little more time using that kitchen table for strengthening their family bonds.
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