Rep. Erik Mortensen, R-Shakopee, introduced a bill last week in the Minnesota Legislature that would eliminate the state’s child care assistance program, which subsidizes child care for qualifying low income families.
Mortensen did not return the Shakopean’s request for an interview or comment. He is the sole author of the bill and no other lawmakers have signed onto it as of Jan. 29.
The Minnesota child care assistance program (CCAP) currently assists 220 Scott County families with child care costs, and statewide it serves more than 30,000 families per month.
Families already receiving public assistance are eligible for CCAP, and other families may qualify based on income, according to Scott County Economic Assistance Director Kari Ouimette. To qualify, parents must be in need of child care because they are working, looking for work, or going to school.
Kate Swanson, of Shakopee, first qualified for CCAP 13 years ago, when her daughter was just two years old. Swanson, a single mom, was just starting nursing school and was able to lean on the program for support as she attended class.
“I started nursing school to get my Associates in Applied Science – Licensed Practical Nursing and completed a two-year degree in a year and a half. This was all possible because of daycare assistance,” Swanson said.
After having her second child in 2013, Swanson continued receiving child care assistance while she went back to school to become a registered nurse.
“I graduated in 2019 as a registered nurse and finally was able to earn enough to not qualify for daycare assistance and afford it on my own,” she said. “I would not be a nurse without daycare assistance and the quality child care my kids received.”
Ultimately, Swanson said child care assistance changed the trajectory of her life.
Swanson’s story is a familiar one to Ouimette, as many families using CCAP are in similar situations — not earning enough money to pay for child care but needing to work so they can afford to live.
Due to the high cost of child care, Ouimette said, some of the families in the program would have no alternative options for their children without the assistance.
“Without CCAP, I think we would see a lot more families back on the MFIP (public assistance) or out of work,” she said. “It would be devastating. The cost of child care in Minnesota is astronomical.”
According to Child Care Aware Minnesota, the cost of child care can range from $150 per week for a school-age child at an in-home daycare to $344 per week for an infant at a child care center. If a single parent is earning $10 an hour at 40 hours per week, the cost of child care alone can easily eat up more than half of a paycheck before taxes.
“We have a lot of families that are single-parent families and do not have family support and financial support that many of us are lucky to have,” Ouimette said. “They are moving their way out of the public assistance system and just trying to stabilize their families.”
KinderCare Associate Communication Manager Emily Snyder said KinderCare centers across Minnesota serve nearly 2,000 children who qualify for CCAP.
“Studies have shown that quality child care gives children a much-needed head start in life by providing them with a foundation they can build on to achieve countless academic and developmental milestones that enable them to enjoy long-lasting benefits, like higher graduation rates and better paying careers,” Snyder said. “Without (CCAP), many hardworking families may not be able to continue receiving the high quality care and education their children need to get their best start in life.”
Action 4 Liberty, a political action committee that supports Mortensen, has been lobbying for CCAP’s elimination for at least two years based on a sensational TV report that CCAP is rife with fraud to the tune of $100 million each year.
The Minnesota Legislative Auditor issued an investigative report in March 2019 in response to the TV report’s allegations. While the report acknowledged CCAP is susceptible to fraud in unique ways, like child care providers fudging hours and other loopholes that are difficult to track, prosecutors have only proven and prosecuted about $6 million of fraud in recent years.
“Unfortunately that $100 million number is not based on facts,” Ouimette told the Shakopean.
In 2019, the state and federal governments spent more than $250 million to fund CCAP, with $5.8 million of that allocated to Scott County. According to Ouimette, Scott County is the only county in Minnesota that doesn’t allocate any of its own funding to the program.