Businesses could get state aid to expand child care for workers under budget plan | Politics


JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri businesses may be able to tap into a new state program to add child care services as part of a bid to keep employees from leaving the workforce when they have kids.

As part of the $10 billion budget for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Legislature inserted $10 million in federal emergency stimulus aid for the program.

The measure is now under review by Gov. Mike Parson, who supports the expansion.

Business groups hailed the budget proposal, saying it will help small businesses recover from the financial strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Workforce remains the No. 1 issue impacting business growth across Missouri — with the child care crisis being a major factor. Thanks to this new funding, Missouri will be on the leading edge as businesses work to develop innovative child care models that will help parents get back to work,” said Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Dan Mehan.

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Along with lobbying by the chamber, the program is an outgrowth of a task force created in the wake of the pandemic.

In January, the Show Me Strong Recovery Task Force issued a set of recommendations, including improving child care availability and affordability.

The panel met with small-business owners in seven cities, conducted a statewide survey of small-business owners and worked with the Federal Reserve to analyze the impact of the pandemic.

A study by the U.S. Chamber Foundation found that nearly 1 in 3 parents have changed jobs due to child care issues in 2021, signaling that state intervention could help bolster the workforce.

Under the plan, companies could apply for grants up to $250,000 to form partnerships with child care providers or establish dedicated child care centers to serve employees. Small businesses will also be encouraged to band together and offer this benefit. An additional $10 million was dedicated to establish a grant program to help provide child care for essential workers, including state employees.

Pam Thomas, assistant commissioner of the DESE Office of Childhood, said it will take a few months for the agency to roll out the plan.

“Right now, it’s very much at the concept level,” Thomas said. “We don’t have any implementation plans yet.”

She said the program will help fill a hole left in child care by the pandemic, in which there was a 30% decline in licensed child care facilities.

“We certainly support starting up and expanding child care,” Thomas said.

There are other efforts underway to boost child care services.

In St. Louis County, officials are considering spending some of the $74 million in federal pandemic aid on bolstering child care providers. A vote could come in late June after Parson takes action on the state budget.

The legislation is House Bill 3002.

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