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Governor’s early childhood supplemental budget proposals total nearly $37 million

(House Photography file photo)
(House Photography file photo)

A measure that seeks to update how child care providers are regulated by moving to a “risk-based” licensing system is part of a package of proposals and new funding heard by the House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday.

Sponsored by Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul), HF5267, as amended, is the 2024 supplemental budget bill proposed by Gov. Tim Walz for early childhood programs.

The total request for the Department of Human Services is $47.4 million in the current biennium and the bill, which was laid over, would allocate a significant portion of that amount. It would also modify some child welfare and child care licensing programs and make other technical changes to existing laws.

During a presentation of the bill’s provisions, Elyse Bailey, the department’s budget director, said it focuses on critical needs such as investing in infrastructure and developing “an agile response” to other urgent problems. “In this [committee’s] jurisdiction, the total budget is about $37 million in the first biennium.”

House committee hears Gov. Walz's proposed early childhood suupplemental budget, HF5267 4/9/24

Among the bill’s largest appropriations would be $15 million to continue fixing the outdated Social Services Information System used by more than 6,000 workers around the state to track and manage child welfare case work.

Rep. Nathan Nelson (R-Hinckley) said even more is needed to overhaul the system and address frustrations users have expressed with its limitations.

“This was rolled out in 1999, that was 25 years ago, it’s hard to believe,” Nelson said. “Some of the computers that are still required on the SSIS system you could play Oregon Trail on.”

Total costs to replace the system are likely in the range of $80 million to $100 million, although Pinto said the federal government would pay for about half of that.

The bill also calls for a $13.6 million appropriation in the current biennium to provide the state match to participate in the federal Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer Program that provides pre-loaded cards families can use to buy groceries. Another provision in the bill would make an additional $5 million one-time appropriation to fight food insecurity.

Child care providers submitted several letters of support for the licensing change, citing problems with the current system that can lump violations of all kinds together.

One example given was an unprotected outlet and frayed carpeting being treated as equal infractions. Another was a hole in a pillow and dangerous cleaning chemicals within reach of children both classified as “hazardous materials available to children.”

A new weighted risk system would be created for all child care centers and providers to reflect the level of risk a violation poses to children. Using surveys and focus groups of stakeholders to find agreement on the risk associated with different violations, the system would assign a 1-10 score on each regulation as a way to ensure greater consistency in how child care programs are reviewed and enforced.

Pinto, who chairs the committee, said the bill’s provisions may be included in the committee’s budget bill, which he expects will be put together in the coming days, before debate and final action that should come next week, effectively wrapping up the committee’s work for the 2024 session.

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