Report: Child care system falls short

Contact: Judy Putnam at (517) 487-5436 or jputnam@mlpp.org

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Sound recording: Sound of kids playing : Gilda Jacobs quote

More inspectors, better payments needed to ensure high-quality care

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan’s child care program falls far short in ensuring high-quality child care that is so essential to kids, their parents and state businesses, a new report concludes.

“We need a strong child care system that offers access to safe, stable and high-quality care, and we have failed to invest in that care,’’ said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “This is important to kids and families, and it’s essential to maintaining a high-quality and reliable workforce that our state needs.’’

The League’s report, Failure to Invest in High-Quality Child Care Hurts Children and State’s Economy, was released today.

Specifically, Michigan is far behind other states in offering child care reimbursements that are designed to help working parents with very low incomes stay on the job and off public assistance. State-subsidized child care has dropped by more than 70 percent since 2005 – from $479 million to $136 million – a dramatic decline in an economy where almost two-thirds of preschool children live in families where all parents work.

While some of the reduction was undoubtedly due to high unemployment, Michigan’s public policy decisions also played a role, including continuing the state’s low child care subsidy eligibility levels and provider payments. In fact, Michigan’s child care eligibility levels are among the lowest in the country – meaning that working parents have to have very low incomes to qualify.

In addition, the state has too few inspectors to ensure compliance with even the basic health and safety regulations in facilities that serve all children in licensed child care. A recent federal audit concluded that Michigan does not have enough inspectors with 150 cases per inspector, which is triple that of the federal guidelines.

One bright spot is the state’s push for high-quality child care. Licensed centers that improve their quality ratings through the state’s star quality program are eligible for higher reimbursement from the Child Care Development Fund. More than 80 percent, however, did not qualify for the increase.

“Research tells us that every day and every hour counts when it comes to child development. It’s important to make sure that children are in safe and healthy environments that keep them happy while developing their motor, intellectual and social skills,’’ said Kids Count in Michigan Director Jane Zehnder-Merrell.
Among recommendations:

•    Increase child care payment rates with the goal of reaching the 75th percentile of market rates.
•    Immediately increase the number of child care inspectors to enforce child safety rules with a goal of 50 cases per inspector.
•    Strengthen Michigan’s tax system to support work efforts of families earning lower wages, including restoration of the state Earned Income Tax Credit.

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The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonpartisan policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.