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Walz highlights boosts in spending for child care, early learning

The Minnesota governor lauded the "spectacular" budget increases Thursday afternoon.

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz addresses the press during a visit to the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester to highlight child care and early education investments in Minnesota’s COVID-19 Recovery Budget on Thursday, July 8, 2021, in {city]. (Traci Westcott /twestcott@postbulletin.com)
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz came to the Boys & Girls Club of Rochester on Thursday, July 8 to hail what he called once-in-a-generation legislation that would benefit working and low-income parents.

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz talks with children during a visit to the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester to highlight child care and early education investments in Minnesota’s COVID-19 Recovery Budget on Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

When his proposed state budget was unveiled in January, Walz said, the main goal was to help the state's most vulnerable families and children recover from the pandemic. He called the investments that will be made in child care and early learning as a result of the Health and Human Services budget "spectacular."

"Those that have been at this for a long time will tell you this might have been the best budget in the last several decades," Walz said about the increased support for summer-school programs, preschool and Early Head Start.

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Officials noted that the state's Minnesota Family Investment Program, the state's welfare reform program for low-income families with children, will get more funding. The budget includes a one-time cash payment of $435 to 32,000 families and 46,000 children. It also includes a permanent MFIP cost-of-living adjustment to help poor families with rising costs.

"For Minnesota families living in poverty, it was hard enough before COVID-19, " said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. "We have an opportunity here to bridge some of those gaps and give our children additional support. Because when we increase family income, we improve child outcomes. It's just that simple."

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Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan addresses the press during a visit to the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester to highlight child care and early education investments in Minnesota’s COVID-19 Recovery Budget on Thursday, July 8, 2021, in {city]. (Traci Westcott /twestcott@postbulletin.com)

The budget also provides more support for child care businesses, including $304 million for direct payments to child care providers to help stabilize their businesses. There is also $22.5 million for revitalization grants for child care facilities. In addition, $6 million will be used for technical assistance to help providers reopen or start up, as well as business training to help providers retool after the pandemic.

Walz's budget also helps parents afford child care by increasing the maximum child care assistance rates for child care providers to the 30th percentile of the most recent market survey for preschoolers and school-age children, and 40th percentile for infants and toddlers. The change reduces out-of-pocket costs for families, officials say.

Rep. Tina Liebling, chair of Health Finance and Policy Committee and a Rochester Democrat, was House Democrat's chief negotiator for the legislation. She attributed the outcome to a team approach, "from beginning to end," by the Walz administration.

"This year, we were so fortunate to have a lot of federal funding to help us out. But there was still a struggle over whether we should make these investments and obligate the state to future costs to take care of kids and families," Liebling said. "And our answer to that was a resounding yes."

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State Rep. Tina Liebling addresses the press during a visit to the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester to highlight child care and early education investments in Minnesota’s COVID-19 Recovery Budget on Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

Chad Campbell, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club, also praised the legislation, which restores annual funding of $750,000 for Boys & Girls Club organizations. More than $13 million has also been earmarked for after-school programs. The grants program will be administered by Ignite Minnesota, an after-school network.

"We're excited to have a chance at some of that assistance and support," Campbell said.

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz talks with Chad Campbell, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Rochester during a visit to highlight child care and early education investments in Minnesota’s COVID-19 Recovery Budget on Thursday, July 8, 2021, in {city]. (Traci Westcott /twestcott@postbulletin.com)

Jon Losness, executive director of Families First of Minnesota, which serves more than 500 children in Head Start and Early Head Start in Rochester and Albert Lea, said the child care assistance is "really helpful" for families who live in poverty. Even the one-time cash payment through MFIP will help.

"A lot of these folks have not made a 40-hour paycheck for the last year and half," he said. "So anything they can do to make sure their utilities stay on or pay for a car repair is huge."

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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