SAINT PAUL, Minn. - Today, the House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee held an informational hearing to hear from Minnesotans on the impact of 2023 investments in child care and early learning and consider a bicameral proposal - the Great Start Affordability program - to help make this critical service more affordable for families in 2024.
“Early care and learning has been in crisis for decades - unaffordable and inaccessible to families and paying poverty wages to educators,” said Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL. St. Paul), chair of the committee. “Last session, we made big strides for the lowest-income families, but middle-income families continue to struggle; now is the time to help them."
The Great Start Affordability proposal, authored by Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn (DFL-Eden Prairie) and Sen. Grant Hauschild (DFL- Hermantown), would provide income-based subsidies, paid directly to providers, to help families afford child care and early learning. If passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor this spring, payments could start as early as fall 2024.
“In order for the average Minnesotan family in the metro area to pay no more than 7% of their income towards child care, they would have to be making $340,000. Child care should not just be affordable for the very wealthy,” said bill author Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn. “Last year, we made historic investments in child care across the state, increasing access, quality, and resources for our providers. Now we need to finish the job by making sure all families can access and afford that care.”
The Great Start Affordability proposal builds on investments made in the 2023 legislative sessions in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), early learning scholarships, Head Start, and school-based pre-K, as well as “Great Start Compensation Supports” to increase wages. But these investments focus largely on the lowest-income families - leaving the large majority of Minnesota families still struggling to afford care.
“We pay more for childcare than we do for our mortgage,” said Brittany Kjenaas, a parent from Mountain Iron, Minnesota who shared her testimony. “There’s no way we could double that and still afford to live. There are a lot of factors that go into a family’s decisions about how and when to grow their family, but I never thought that childcare costs would end up being the one that overrode every other one. Every Minnesota family deserves to afford their lives, and making childcare affordable is a concrete and necessary step to making that possible.”
The proposal would put Minnesota on a path toward meeting the federal standard - also adopted by a legislative task force - that no family should pay more than 7% of their annual income on this service.
"Childcare and early learning deserves public funding so parents aren’t forced to choose between working and having children,” said Shawntel Gruba, a childcare provider for over 20 years before building and opening her own facility, Iron Range Tykes Learning Center. “Childcare has been underfunded for decades so we have a lot of catching up to do and a lot of change that needs to happen beyond the catching up,” Ms. Gruba continued.
Materials, including written testimony, are available on the House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee webpage.