Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposes a $1.4 billion investment to support child care in Michigan and help the economy get back on track, but small child-care businesses in Detroit say they need to see relief.
Early on during the pandemic, child-care providers across Michigan had to make hard choices. Should we close up our businesses and stay home and safe, or open our doors to help essential workers in desperate need of child care?
- As women leave pandemic economy, returning to work, higher wages will be a struggle
- Child care centers provided young students a safe place to learn online. Michigan said no.
Many of us made the choice to be there for Detroit families.
We are committed to providing quality care options because we know, first hand, how difficult life can be for working families in Detroit.
Detroiters filled the essential jobs that kept our economy moving during the pandemic, and without child care, we couldn’t have navigated school closures and other pandemic challenges.
We believe accessible, affordable, and well-resourced child care that meets the needs of families and providers is essential. It is the work that has to occur for nearly all other work to happen.
We need continued support for programs like the Community Connections Grant Program and Providers for Change.
The Community Connections Grant Program recognized, very early on, the need to support child care centers and home day-care providers. The organization offered capacity building assistance and financial support for necessary and long overdue changes when no one else was providing help.
Providers for Change organized, amid the pandemic, to uplift providers’ issues and offer a support network for small businesses. The coalition works to unify, advocate and provide a voice for child-care providers and early childhood educators in Michigan, and to make sure that providers are informed about policies, procedures, finances and other things that affect their businesses.
Child-care providers are asking the state to:
- Utilize federal and State funding to increase reimbursement rates so that providers can afford operational costs and pay teachers a living wage.
- Payments should be based on enrollment, not attendance, and be remitted on a monthly schedule.
- The star rating system should be revised to serve as a voluntary incentive, instead of as a sanction.
Stepping up was not easy for Detroit’s child-care providers. We struggled more and had fewer resources to lean on compared to our larger and suburban counterparts, who are able to run their business on cash payments. Families living in poverty don’t have the money to pay more than the state-approved reimbursement rate for providers.
So, we, unfortunately, operate with less.
The state pays child-care providers a range of $2.90 to $5 per hour per child based on star rating and program structure. If you are caring for 10 children, you earn between $29 and $50 per hour. You either accept this second-class payment structure, or turn families away.
It’s also difficult to keep your doors open when you can’t develop a budget and your income is dependent on State payments that trickle in based on the number of hours of care you provide to eligible children each week. It would be much more manageable if providers were paid based on enrollment levels rather than attendance.
The state’s child-care reimbursement system needs to change. This move would help level the playing field for providers that serve low-income families.
The current system also makes it impossible to project our annual income, which makes managing a business hard. We want to be able to rely on support for at least two years. We need to be able to plan.
Many businesses did not make it through the last year. We struggled to pay our bills. We need investment today and beyond.
We, all African-American and women-owned entrepreneurs, have more ideas, and want to be a voice at the planning table. We want our needs known, and we want the massive COVID-related federal resources coming into the state to support us, and the other 40-plus Detroit-based providers.
We need to be part of the decision-making on how funds are spent — to make sure that the State looks critically at the systems that exist and make the necessary changes to address the needs of these businesswomen and provide the support they need to grow and meet the demand for quality care in Detroit.
We can help you understand policy blind spots and create solutions that are equitable. We will help you upend broken systems and strengthen all child-care businesses in Michigan.
This opinion was created in partnership with the University of Michigan School of Social Work and Community Connections Grant Program. ENGAGE is a strategic effort of the School of Social Work connecting the school to community issues, partners and movements for greater equity and social change.
Community Connections Grant Program is a participatory grantmaking platform providing resources and a suite of services to support grassroots groups and stakeholders to apply solutions to challenges they deem vital. The platform centers resident wisdom, relationships and equity to democratize change.
Nina Hodge is the owner of Above and Beyond Child Care. ChaVonne McGowan is the owner of Seeds of Knowledge Creative Learning Center. Felicia Legardy is owner of Crystal Swann Child Care, and LaTonya Glover is the owner of Bright Beginnings Child Care.