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Start young: House bill would add early childhood to housing grant program

Looking to aid student achievement, lawmakers want to make families with young children eligible for a current housing grant program.

Part of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, Homework Starts with Home focuses on homelessness and housing stability for parents with children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The program consists of the Housing Trust Fund and the school-stability project of the Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program.

Sponsored by Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), HF3210 would add families with children age 5 and under, including prenatal, to the program and would clarify that families of adult students (18 and older) are eligible for the program if the student is in a K-12 academic program.

The bill, as amended, was approved 6-0 by the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Committee Friday and referred to the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee. It has no Senate companion.

“We so often think of programs and systems from a school-based, K-12 perspective and we talk a lot in our committee about the need to be thinking younger as well,” Pinto said during the joint meeting of the committee and the House Preventing Homelessness Division.

Eric Grumdahl, deputy director for the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness, said reliable data on homelessness for children in early childhood does not exist. But, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that 15,946 children under age 6 experienced some form of homelessness during the 2018-19 school year, which translates to 1 in 27 children.

“What we’re trying to do is lift up caregivers because that will lift up their young kids,” Pinto said.
“Of course, one critical aspect of lifting up the caregiver is how hard housing and stability is on adults. So, then it can make an impact on their young kids.”

The grants are included in Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed supplemental budget. Walz’s proposal would add an additional $10 million per year to the program that currently receives $1.75 million. The proposal would also expand eligibility to include prenatal and early childhood periods.

According to the proposal, an additional 1,425 families would be impacted each year.

“When you look at all the intersections and downstream impacts when children don’t have access to stable housing, I really can’t think of a more efficient or impactful use of public dollars than this Homework Starts [with] Home program and to have available resources for families, for children to both seize make so much sense,” said Rep. Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield). “It really feels like a good investment.”

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