Better Wages Highlight Latest ND Child Care Plan / Public News Service


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When North Dakota lawmakers reconvene next month, they’ll have a host of recommendations for improving child care to consider, including a new policy framework offered by a statewide group.

The North Dakota Child Care Action Alliance said it compiled its suggestions after hosting six listening sessions earlier this year. The group is calling for the creation of a workforce fund to provide supplemental wages and support for continuing education and training.

Zach Packineau, director of outreach and programming for the North Dakota Voices Network and a member of the alliance, said setting aside dollars to help provide competitive pay will go a long way in helping care centers deal with recruitment and retention issues.

“We need to change the perception of the work that child care workers and providers do,” Packineau asserted. “They’re not just glorified babysitters; these are teachers, these are educators who are helping the state’s children to achieve very important milestones.”

Federal data show the median wage for child care workers in North Dakota is around $11 an hour, just barely above the poverty level for a family of three.

In September, Gov. Doug Burgum announced a working plan to address the state’s child care crisis, including expanding the eligibility pool for the Child Care Assistance Program, and adding a state child care tax credit.

Alliance members have said the governor’s plan is a step in the right direction, but also hope the state adopts a robust final plan with wages serving as a key component.

Packineau emphasized lawmakers need to keep an open mind as parents still struggle to find affordable care.

“Because this crisis is so huge, we really need some long-term, innovative solutions,” Packineau contended.

The coalition said North Dakota needs about 10,000 more child care slots to meet the demand for young children with working parents. To staff these additional slots, the state needs at least 1,400 more child care workers.

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Minnesota’s projected budget surplus now stands at more than $17 billion, and supporters of clean energy projects and other infrastructure needs say the outlook should compel state lawmakers to approve matching funds tied to federal support.

The updated economic forecast comes one year after the federal infrastructure law was signed. It includes funding for things like electric vehicle charging stations. The federal grants require matching funds, and Minnesota is among the states that have yet to follow up.

Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, who is poised to be Assistant Majority Leader, said they cannot wait much longer.

“There are some states out there who are ahead of us in appropriating these matching funds,” Frentz pointed out. “And given the budget news, I don’t see any reason Minnesota should be behind other states in seeking these federal funds, which after all, come from tax dollars paid in part by Minnesotans.”

Lawmakers reconvene early next month, and advocates argued waiting until later in the session means losing federal funds to projects elsewhere. State officials say more than 80% of Minnesota’s share requires matching dollars. While Democrats will control the Legislature and governor’s office, Frentz cautioned there could be spirited conversations about which projects to prioritize.

Last session, Republican leaders did not state opposition to the matching funds, but argued the matter could be dealt with in 2023.

Gregg Mast, executive director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, said he hopes there is bipartisan support, but echoed waiting creates more uncertainty for projects.

“As we have seen over the last couple of years, there are so many disruptions within the supply chain that the earlier that we have certainty that we have funds set aside to go after and match the federal dollars, the better,” Mast emphasized. “Because we can keep these projects moving forward.”

Daniel Lightfoot, intergovernmental relations representative and federal relations manager for the League of Minnesota Cities, said costs are another concern tied to delays.

“We’ve seen some trends with materials, as well as interest rates, that are kind-of going up and up,” Lightfoot pointed out. “There could be a situation where projects that have been delayed by months or even years have now completely different price tags.”

He added it is a big burden for under-resourced communities at a time when many municipalities are showing interest in helping the state transition to clean energy sources.

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The Washington state 2023 legislative session is fast approaching, and one group is urging lawmakers to prioritize investments over budget cuts.

Traci Underwood, policy director with the Seattle-based nonprofit Economic Opportunity Institute, said the federal government and the state have made major investments in public welfare during the pandemic.

She said policies such as the federal Child Tax Credit, which reduced child poverty to record lows, and stimulus checks helped families through difficult times.

“What we know from all of that is that they have had massive positive impacts on people and households and families, and we need to continue to do that,” Underwood said. “Now’s not the time to step back. The problem’s not fixed.”

While factors such as inflation and high fuel costs could persuade lawmakers that cuts are needed to keep the economy going, Underwood noted the state needs to address massive wealth and racial disparities.

She said legislators should invest in programs that improve the public good, not automatically start with budget cuts.

“Affordable and accessible health care, fair taxes that provide ample funding for these programs,” she said, “Stable and dignified work for all people – so thinking about family paid medical-leave funding and language access, and child care compensation.”

Underwood added that lawmakers also should invest in programs that create economic stability, such as a guaranteed income pilot project and establishing baby bonds, which would create a pool of money for children that they could access when they turn 18.

Underwood said everybody deserves to live safe and stable lives.

“Right now, that’s really tenuous for a lot of people,” she said. “And so, we have the means, we have the ability to make this happen, which is exciting, and so that’s something that I hope that we all work towards this coming legislative session.”

The legislative session begins on January 9th.

Disclosure: Economic Opportunity Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Education, Livable Wages/Working Families, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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Yesterday was the first anniversary of the signing of the federal infrastructure law.

Groups pushing for support for Wisconsin towns and cities say implementation is providing hope overlooked areas will get the jolts they need.

Zach Vruwink, deputy executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said so far, nearly $3 billion in projects for the state have been announced with funding from the law. Most are transportation-related, and Vruwink argued it is badly needed, as many areas have backlogs for priorities like road and bridge repairs.

“Many of the municipalities have had projects delayed, or had to shelve them, due to lack of funding,” Vruwink pointed out. “By having a real strong federal partnership in the area of infrastructure helps address some of the backlog.”

The law will also provide states funding for clean water infrastructure and expansion of high-speed internet. Funding from the $1.2 trillion package was scheduled to be spread out over five years. The plan had some Republican opposition, but has otherwise been hailed by political analysts as a bipartisan achievement.

Despite the significance of the law, some analysts said it has not stayed on the public’s radar, especially during the recent election, but supporters are still getting the word out.

Meghan Roh, program director for Opportunity Wisconsin, which has spent the last year educating communities about the benefits of these projects, said people need to understand the effect of such a significant investment.

“Whether we’re spending less on car repairs due to updated roads and bridges, having access to safe drinking water or improved mass transit opportunities, this law is a once-in-a-generation investment in our state’s infrastructure and competitiveness,” Roh stressed.

And as more projects are announced, Roh noted it means additional, well-paid union jobs for distressed areas. She added the long-term benefits from various improvements should particularly help rural areas and underserved communities.

An interactive online map from the White House shows the projects so far are spread fairly evenly across Wisconsin.

Disclosure: Opportunity Wisconsin contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Civic Engagement, and Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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