ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — The cost of child care forced Kate Downey to make a choice: leave her teaching job and start a child care business of her own to make it all work.

“It seemed like a good way to combine being with my kids, financially it made sense and I can incorporate teaching, which I love,” Downey, mother of three, said with 3-year-old son Patrick in tow.

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Her story of coming to grips with costs—and even finding an opening—echoes the struggles of other Minnesota families in what has become a growing child care crisis in the state.

In 2020, Minnesota lost 4,000 in-home daycare centers, similar to Downey’s, alone, according to a recent report. Family care providers have shrunk by nearly half in the last 20 years and more parents are looking for spots than there are spots available.

“I do think it happens a lot where new parents walk into this blind and it’s really hard to navigate once you’re in it,” she said. “It’s a shell shock I’m sure–I know it was for me.”

But she understands why it is so costly: high quality care comes at a price, Downey noted. She and other providers need to make a living, all while parents need to be able to afford it.

She and her business partner at Bloom Daycare, which operates as an in-home daycare, take care of 14 children. There’s a waitlist.

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“In order to make it more affordable for families you have to have the support for the child care centers because it does cost a lot to run a quality program,” she said.

Proposals at the state capitol aim to bridge that gap, including an effort to boost reimbursement rates to providers that serve low-income families through the Child Care Assistance Program, known as CCAP.

Right now, Minnesota’s rates are among the lowest in the nation, Gov. Tim Walz said during a news conference at a child care center in St. Paul on Monday.

He called on the legislature to pass this bill before the session is scheduled to end next week. Without action, he said, the state could fall out of federal compliance, face a penalty and lose federal funding.

“We just simply need to move this and it’s a win-win across so many levels,” he said. “We make sure our littlest ones have the best opportunity, make sure that incredible centers like this are kept up and going, and we need make sure we’re providing that workforce behind the workforce.”

In fiscal year 2019, more than 15,000 Minnesota families received child care assistance through CCAP to help them pay for child care, according to a November 2020 legislative report.

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The American Rescue Plan, latest round of federal COVID-19 relief from the federal government, offers “once in a generation” aid for childcare, including direct monthly payments for child care assistance to families.

Caroline Cummings