Bills in Michigan legislature aim to address child care crisis by raising wages, increasing funding

Posted at 8:39 AM, Oct 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 08:39:00-04

(WXYZ) — An 8-bill package focused on reforming Michigan's child care system is moving through the Michigan legislature.

The State House passed the bills earlier this month, amid a child care crisis happening in Michigan and around the country.

If Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs the bills into law, it would raise wages for early educators, help child care centers bounce back from the pandemic, and provide funding to expand capacity for infants and toddlers.

It could be a big relief for a lot of working parents who are struggling to find child care.

Green Garden is a child care center with five locations across Oakland County.

Right now, there are 200 parents on a standby list hoping their kid will get in. The executive director said she's never had a waiting list that long, and from what she's hearing, a lot of other daycares are in a similar or worse position.

"I can't tell you how many phone calls I take of crying parents that have honestly offered us extra money, jokingly trying to bribe us to get their kids in," Erica Bateman said, "it's pretty devastating to have to say we don't have a space for your child for at least 12 months and in many cases longer than that."

Green Garden is one of the more expensive daycare options in the area. Bateman said that's because they pay their staff competitive wages in hopes of keeping them for a long time. They usually start between $12 and $15 per hour.

"At this point, we really do need to see some funds being brought in from the government and other investors to help us get to a point where we can pay our staff not just a living wage but a comfortable living wage," she said.

Early educators have long been undervalued and many are leaving the profession.

Abby Jacobs said her son's daycare is so short-staffed they have to close at 4:30 p.m. every day. She's also one of several parents who volunteered to keep their kids home part of the week to lighten the load.

"What we initially thought was going to be a 4-week inconvenience or ordeal or whatever you'd like to call it has extended at least another four until early November," she said. "While the daycare has been trying to staff up, the state also didn't have employees to process background checks."

Childcare options are parents who work long hours are even more limited.

Ashley Cde Baca had to leave her job as a nurse because of it. Her husband is a firefighter and they've been looking for a babysitter since May.

"The going rate has increased from $17 to $10 an hour and my husband doesn't even make $20 an hour, so it didn't make sense to pay someone to take care of my kids more than we are actually bringing in," she said.

Jacobs said the child care crisis is hurting some more than others. If relief doesn't come soon, she said we could see a lot more parents leaving the workforce.

"We are managing. We are very fortunate, but have sort of become numb to just the stress of it all," she said. "This is just what it's like to be a parent in America and its disappointing."