County has opportunity to step up, assume leadership role in childcare issue

Childcare, or the lack of it, is a problem all over the country. Here in Marquette County, waiting lists for a childcare provider can be months, or even years long.

It’s a crisis, and it’s happening everywhere. A National Bureau of Economic Research study, in 2019, ranked the U.S. 32nd out of 40 industrialized nations for maternal employment. In June of this year, the NBER found that childcare subsidies would send 1.2 million women in the U.S. into the workforce. The question is, where would those subsidies come from? There is little help from the Federal Government. Early childcare subsidies were cut out of the $433 billion Inflation Reduction Act prior to its passage in Congress in August.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a childcare initiative in August that offers free or low cost childcare to 150,000 more children in the state. Families with two kids earning up to $55,000 year may qualify for help paying for childcare. She also launched the Mi-Tri-Share Child Care Program where the cost of an employee’s child care is split three ways. A third of the cost is picked up by the state, a third by the employer and a third by the employee.

But providing child care funding for select groups of Michigan residents can’t solve the lack of spots with day-care providers.

Area advocates for child care are asking local government entities to devote some of the discretionary funding they have received from state and federal sources to help solve the problem. Marquette County is one of those government units that is being asked to help.

The county was awarded $12.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act Funding last year. The Great Start Parent Coalition is asking the county to allocate a little over $1.5 million to four childcare projects that the organization is working on across the county. The board previously allocated $100,000 in funding to help with the childcare crisis. The coalition says money allocated to proposed courthouse renovations and air conditioning could be redirected to the childcare crisis.

When you look at a survey published by county officials, it says the board of commissioners identified criteria for review. The first item on that list is, “Does the proposed project have a county-wide impact?” We would have to agree with the coalition that it does. Other criteria for spending ARPA dollars include how a project fits in with the county’s master plan strategies and whether it impacts county-funded services in a positive way.

Marquette County Board of Commissioners Chair Jerry Corkin said the panel will make a decision on what money will be allocated to child care at its Oct. 4 meeting.

“We will also explain to you what all the responsibilities of Marquette County has as far as child care. Really it’s zero. We have some federal dollars that we’re willing to give to help to get partners to deal with this situation, but it’s not Marquette County’s main duty to provide child care for all of Marquette County,” Corkin said during the meeting.

And even if the county allocates the funding that’s being asked for, larger questions remain. Can we solve the local childcare crisis without state and federal help? Will allocating a larger amount of one-time spending solve what is decidedly a long-term national problem?

Childcare is seen increasingly as infrastructure. It’s become a necessity both socially and economically. And like water, wastewater, and stormwater systems it has been sorely neglected on the local, state and federal levels.

Municipalities have worked to fix those underground systems by leveraging state and federal government funding sources and raising user rates. They did this because they had to start somewhere.

Getting quality childcare centers in the area also has to start somewhere. Maybe that’s with the Marquette County Board.


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