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YMCA to run child care for kids of "essential workers"

The YMCA will open 38 facilities statewide for K-6 kids whose parents work in essential industries

ST PAUL, Minn. — When Gov. Tim Walz closed schools in Minnesota this week, his executive order directed districts to provide care for the children of emergency workers like healthcare professionals, law enforcement and firefighters. 

The order also recommended that districts provide care for the children of so-called "Tier 2" employees, who might include utility workers, educators or people in the food distribution industry. However, despite the recommendation, a gap in child care remained as parents scrambled to find places to put their kids in the absence of classrooms.

Enter the YMCA.

Starting Monday, the century-and-a-half-old nonprofit will open 38 locations in Minnesota -- 22 in the Twin Cities -- to provide care for K-through-6 students whose parents work in Tier 2 jobs. At a cost of $40 per day (with financial assistance available for low-income families), the facilities will operate Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the coronavirus pandemic. 

"All these other critical support services, where parents are needing child care... we're here to respond to the community need," chief operating officer Greg Waibel said. 

In addition to e-learning, kids will also partake in a number of daytime activities -- with the policies of social distancing in place, of course. To ensure that the kids are not in close contact, the Y will spread them out throughout their sprawling facilities, which average 50,000 square feet.

"Think about the big, open spaces we have with gymnasiums, racquetball courts, multi-purpose studios, fitness studios, cooking kitchens," Waibel said. "We have multiple spaces within all locations that will provide a variety of places that they can rotate throughout the day, maintaining these small groups."

The YMCA's program comes at a time of deep uncertainty for child care centers across Minnesota, particularly for those that serve kids four years old and younger. Many of them have taken an enormous financial hit during the pandemic, as "private pay" parents have pulled their kids out of the facilities. Funding has also suffered because of the state formula that ties child care reimbursement to daily attendance. 

According to a survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, one in three providers in Minnesota say "they would not survive closing for more than two weeks without significant public investment and support that would allow them to compensate and retain staff, pay rent, and cover other fixed costs."

"We're saying we need to get some funding to them right now," Laura LaCroix-Dalluhn of the Minnesota Prenatal to Three Coalition said, "so that they can stay open."

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In his Friday afternoon news conference, Gov. Tim Walz empathized with the plight of child care centers and said he met with four legislative leaders about appropriations measures that could include direct funding to providers. Although subject to legislative approval, Walz said he hoped that they can get the money to providers "as quickly as possible."

Rep. Ryan Winkler, the Majority Leader of the DFL-led House, said he's making the issue a priority.

"We are moving as rapidly as we can, so we can figure out how we respond to the child care crisis," Winkler said.

A spokesperson for Senate Republicans said they share a similar mission, but would prefer different tactics to support child care providers. Those measures might include bolstering existing funding streams under the Child Care Assistance Program or loosening regulations.

You can see all of the locations offering childcare below:

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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