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Teachers, families and providers urge lawmakers to imagine 'A Day Without Childcare'

The event was part of a national movement, but highlights a growing problem across our region.

ST PAUL, Minn. — A rally at the Minnesota Capitol on Monday united childcare providers, educators and the families who depend on them. The coalition filled the rotunda in hopes of bringing attention to issues surrounding childcare and to legislative efforts to increase funding for childcare assistance.

The rally was part of a nationwide movement called "A Day Without Childcare" with many educators across the state and the country wearing purple to help show how many people are critical to keeping working parents in the workforce.

"We are wearing purple to show that this is something that benefits everyone, no matter what side of the aisle you're on," said Greta Holupchinski.

Holupchinski is a Head Start Home Visitor in Ramsey County, and decided to make a house call to visit with her state representatives and other lawmakers at the Capitol on Monday.

"I'm here today because early education is something that has always been important," she said. "But during the pandemic we've really realized how it effects everyone in our state, not just families with young children."

According to a recent analysis by the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, childcare availability and affordability is a factor in the ongoing labor shortage across many industries.  

The report cited the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, and it's own surveys of the hospitality industry.

"Childcare continues to come to the top on the barriers, particularly for working parents," said Erick Garcia Luna, an Outreach Director for the Minneapolis Federal Reserve.

Garcia Luna says parents reported struggling with both child care availability and affordability, with many stopping work at some point in the pandemic to care for their kids, and 10% say someone in their household have now stopped looking for work in order care for children.

"The numbers tell us that, if we are going to encourage individuals to get back to work, they have to have the options for their children to be able to be taken care of," Garcia Luna said.

Many providers say they can't expand access or affordability without government assistance. Child care workers are already, on average, the lowest paid educators in the state. 

Data from the Minnesota Department of Human Services shows the number of licensed childcare providers has fallen by 11% since 2018, despite widespread demand. Part of the problem is a lack of teachers. Childcare employment is down by 13% since before the pandemic in 2019.

"Childcare workers are also parents - a lot of them - and a lot of them are also not making more than $25K-$40K a year," Garcia Luna said. "What we are seeing is that they are also being put in a situation which they either continue to work or care for their children."

"We tend to forget that childcare workers are essential workers," said Mohammed Inayath Ur Rahman, who is a father-to-be and also works at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center. "They stepped up for all of us when we needed them. "

Rahman was at the rally at the Capitol as part of a contingent of 50 mosques and 200 other faith congregations who are also urging the legislature to act. He says he was happy to see childcare educators included in the recent frontline bonus pay legislation, but hopes it's just the beginning.

"it's too little, too late, in a way," he said. "We need to have a childcare system that's fully funded, affordable and sustainable in the long term future." 

"Times of turbulence can be very difficult," Holupchinski said. "But they also can be a good time to change, and I think that's the time that we're in right now."

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