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Our View: Cheer tax break for kids, middle class

A tax credit that for years has been helping lower-income Minnesota families afford child care is about to begin helping middle-class families, too. That bodes well for our state's future.

"A lot of child care nowadays is really very education-focused. These children are learning great skills, including socialization skills, sharing skills, and some early learning that will help them be better in school when they get there," Minnesota Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly said in an exclusive interview this fall with members of the News Tribune Editorial Board.

Bauerly was in town to meet with revenue employees here, and she took time to talk up how the Child and Dependent Care Credit was just made better this past legislative session. True bipartisan cooperation and agreement between the Republican-controlled Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, something too often seen as a rarity, actually, in this instance, promised to bolster Minnesota's youngest learners.

Previously, families with incomes of about $40,000 or less could claim the credit on their state income tax return. Starting this coming tax-filing period, thanks to lawmakers and Dayton, that cap will be $50,000 with a phase-out at about $62,000. The change is expected to allow approximately 60,000 Minnesota families to claim the credit, about double the number who have been benefitting from it, Bauerly said. In addition, those families will be able to claim up to $2,100, up from $1,400 annually, as detailed and specified in the tax bill.

"We'll really be capturing many more families in that middle-class space where (high child-care) costs can really be the difference between a parent deciding to work or not," said Bauerly. "We know that middle-class families in Minnesota need assistance as well. For lower-income families, this is available, but so are sliding fees, (child care assistance) programs through (the Minnesota Department of Human Services), and there are a lot of other resources that are available to those families. We wanted to make sure we were also supporting middle-class families, and that's why the governor pushed this. ...

"Child care across the state is expensive, really expensive, and obviously a really important investment. You're not going to feel like you can go be productive at work if you don't have confidence in where your children are spending the day," Bauerly further said. "This is about giving our kids the best start in life, and having families be able to afford that is something we're really pleased we are able to implement."

A far cry from "babysitting," quality child care nowadays, especially for preschoolers, improves the chances of later success in school, something that fuels optimism about the future. Thanks to a bit of bipartisanship too rarely seen anymore, tens of thousands of additional Minnesota families are now able take advantage.