The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 1, 2011

Child care aid in jeopardy

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Cassi Gerdes had a rude awakening this week when she saw the state government’s paralysis in a whole new light.

“I never thought it would jeopardize where my kids go to day care,” she said. It hasn’t, yet, but it might.

The state shutdown, which took effect today, stopped funding for the state’s child care assistance programs, though the federally funded programs remain.

In Blue Earth County about 230 families will lose the subsidy, as will 118 Nicollet County families.

Among them is Gerdes, whose sons Ethan and Brogan have been attending Little Stars Early Learning Center for a few years. Gerdes also works at the center.

“Without the assistance, I couldn’t bring my kids here,” said Gerdes, who likes the educational opportunities afforded by the day care. Her son Ethan, 6, was finishing up snacktime and had different priorities.

“I like the food,” he said, a white mustache of doughnut powder over his lips.

A judge who decided what services would be funded in a shutdown acknowledged it “may cause extreme hardship” to poor, working parents; increase welfare rolls because parents may have to stop work; and make it harder for kids to succeed in school.

The largest subsidy affected is called basic sliding fee, and it pays a percentage of child care costs depending on the family’s income. The top limit is 40 percent of the state’s median income, which for a family of four in Minnesota is $55,908 a year.

The subsidy goes straight to the child care, so it’s in the interest of the centers to work with families on the program. That, of course, assumes the money will be refunded when a state budget deal is reached.

At Little Stars, between a fourth and a third of the families use public assistance, owner Collette Sternitzke said. She said they’re looking at having families pay part of the cost, but the day care might take out a bank loan.

Among those parents are Tressa Roehm, who has brought her 2-year-old daughter, Teagynn, to Little Stars since she was 6 weeks old. She said a big issue is keeping Teagynn’s spot reserved.

“We can’t afford to keep it, we can’t afford to lose it,” she said.

She’s a state employee, but her job at Minnesota State University won’t be affected by the shutdown.

Roehm, who called herself a liberal, said, “People need to start contacting their legislators” to resolve the impasse.