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Published in Economic Development

Officials seek more employers to grow affordable child care program statewide

BY Wednesday, October 19, 2022 02:05pm

A public-private initiative formed to make child care affordable for working parents in Michigan has begun moving from the pilot stage to full implementation.

Moreover, state officials want to expand the MI Tri-Share Child Care program that divides child care costs between parents, their employer and the state to all 83 counties in Michigan.

In kicking off a public awareness campaign today, advocates hope to see many more employers and organizations participate in Tri-Share Child Care, which aims to ease the accessibility and affordability of child care.

“There is zero downside to this from a business perspective and I don’t see any reason why any employer would not sign up to this program,” Diane Peacock, human resources manager at Wolverine Coil Spring Co. in Grand Rapids, said today during a media briefing on Tri-Share. “It’s a wonderful way to retain our talented employees, and it’s a wonderful way to recruit new employees.”

Wolverine Coil Spring was an early participant in the Tri-Share Child Care pilot program to assist employees who have difficulty affording child care, one of whom was a primary trainer and worked an off shift. The company was able to return her to a day shift to train other employees, Peacock said.

Launched as a pilot in early 2021, Tri-Share Child Care splits the cost of child care between the state, employers and employees who earn between 250 percent and 325 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $90,000 a year for a family of four. That’s an income level where families may struggle with child care affordability, but does not qualify for a public subsidy.

A “facilitator hub” coordinates the program in local markets across the state.

Tri-Share Child Care started in nine counties and has since grown to 59 counties and the city of Detroit. The number of facilitator hubs has grown from three to 13, and the number of participating employers expanded from 27 to 96 in the last nine months, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Susan Corbin said.

“And facilitator hubs are busy recruiting more employers in their region every day as the word spreads,” Corbin said.

Participating employers range from small service providers to large manufacturers and span the public and private sectors, she said.

As Tri-Share transitions from a pilot program with the start of the state’s fiscal year on Oct 1, enrollment at child care programs across the state by families that receive assistance stands at 130 children, up from 19 nine months ago.

State lawmakers and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appropriated $2.5 million in budgets for each fiscal year for 2022 and 2023 to support Tri-Share, which also attracted $800,000 financial backing from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to fund two hubs in Battle Creek. Private funding elevated the total funding for Tri-Share in the 2023 fiscal years to $5.6 million.

Impediment to growth

State Rep. Greg VanWoerkom, R-Norton Shores, called the public funding for Tri-Share a “small price” to address a significant and growing issue for employers who “see this as an impediment to their economic growth,” he said.

Pushed by a coalition of business interests organized by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Tri-Share has been promoted as a way to address the affordability of child care that contributes to a chronic labor shortage that has worsened during COVID-19 the pandemic.

Corbin describes Tri-Share as “a shining illustration of what can be accomplished when the public and private sectors work together to find a solution that benefits everyone.” 

She cited data from the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning public policy research and advocacy organization, that more than 101,000 parents in Michigan last year “made career sacrifices” last year because of child care affordability and accessibility issues, an increase of more than 25,000 people from two years earlier.

“If we all can agree that no Michigan parent should have to choose between caring for their children and staying employed in a job their family needs to put food on the table, we can move the ball down the field,” she said. “Our state’s economic vibrancy depends on removing barriers to employment so that every person who wants to work can afford to work, and every employer who needs current and future employees to grow their business has a talent pool to draw from.”

The Washington, D.C.-based think tank Economic Policy Institute estimates that day care in Michigan costs $905 a month for an infant, and $741 for a 4-year-old child. Housing in Michigan on average costs $844 a month, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The rising cost of child care and persistent labor shortage have made parents’ ability to access and afford child care a business issue, said Nate Henschel, director of government affairs for the Grand Rapids Chamber.

“We know that when families don’t have access to affordable child care, frankly we lose out,” Henschel said. “Child care is not only an issue facing today’s workforce and employers, but one that will be a top concern for the businesses of tomorrow if we don’t begin to address this now in a sustainable way.”

In this morning’s briefing, Henschel billed participation in Tri-Share as one way for employers to gain an advantage when competing for employees in today’s labor shortage.

“Employers looking to recruit and retain top talent, this is a program for you,” he said. “This is a way to not only be part of the solution, but also a way for companies to set themselves apart from the competition.”

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