Gov. Doug Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford were joined by state legislators today at a press conference in Fargo to announce a framework for legislation to address the availability, affordability and quality of child care services in North Dakota, which continues to be a major barrier to workforce participation.
Currently, child care costs account for 15% to 40% of the average household budget in North Dakota, which often isn’t sustainable for young working families, according to the North Dakota Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS). Burgum pointed to data showing most North Dakota communities are experiencing greater workforce shortages this year than last year, with job openings in August up 4.3% over the same month a year ago and the state’s unemployment rate being the sixth-lowest in the nation.
“Workforce is one of North Dakota’s top barriers to economic growth, yet in many cases, parents are having to choose between working and paying for child care, or not working at all,” Burgum said. “Providing better availability to affordable, quality child care will make it easier for working families – especially young families just beginning their careers – to engage in work, provide for their families, help grow our economy and support local businesses and their communities. We’re grateful to everyone who collaborated on this proposal, and we look forward to working with the legislature to pass a child care package that addresses our workforce needs and provides quality early childhood experiences.”
“This proposal is the result of more than 14 months of work and discussions with child care providers, business leaders, the Workforce Development Council, legislators and other key stakeholders,” said Sanford, who chairs the state’s Early Childhood Education Council. “To make a meaningful impact for children, working parents and businesses, we need to adopt a comprehensive strategy that includes government and employers partnering with communities to reach solutions.”
Also attending or participating in today’s press conference at Bright Futures Learning Center in Fargo were Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Chris Jones, Greater North Dakota Chamber President and CEO Arik Spencer, and state legislators including Sens. Dale Patten of Watford City and Kyle Davison of Fargo and Reps. Mike Beltz of Hillsboro, Matt Ruby of Minot, Emily O’Brien and Mark Sanford of Grand Forks, Greg Stemen of Fargo, and Cynthia Schreiber-Beck and Alisa Mitskog of Wahpeton. Senators Curt Kreun of Grand Forks and Judy Lee of West Fargo and Reps. Jon Nelson of Rugby and Michelle Strinden of Fargo were unable to attend but also indicated their support for the proposal, which has an estimated cost of $70 million to $80 million over the two years of the 2023-25 biennium.
The proposal focuses on affordability, availability and quality of child care services, addressing each area in multiple ways, including:
- Expanding the current Child Care Assistance Program to increase the number of families with children ages 0 to 3 who receive help paying for child care.
- Providing a state child care tax credit, similar to the federal Child and Dependent Care credit, to assist low, moderate and middle income working families cover the cost of child care.
- Expanding the model of public-private partnerships to help more employers offer their employees a child care benefit with matching investment from the state.
- Incentivizing providers to deliver child care for infants and toddlers by increasing the rate paid by the state for those families who receive child care assistance.
- Partnering with career and technical education programs, K-12 and higher education to offer students interested in early childhood careers more on-the-job training and certification opportunities in partnership with local child care programs.
- Partnering with employers to identify creative availability solutions for families who work nontypical hours or whose jobs require nontraditional child care solutions.
- Supporting a more sustainable, stable child care sector through grants, incentives, training and shared service resources.
- Providing child care business solutions, facility grants and resources to create environments for children with special needs.
- Ensuring every child whose family is interested has access to a "Best in Class" experience the year before kindergarten.
- Expanding parental choice for working families by creating quality-based payment tiers in the Child Care Assistance Program.
- Providing incentives for child care providers who take the necessary steps to meet quality standards.
- Offer scholarships and grants for additional learning/training opportunities to individuals already in the early childhood profession.
“Child care availability is a barrier for parents who are seeking good care for their children while they are working,” Lee said. “Public and private stakeholders need to collaborate on finding several options to solve this shortage, including partnerships which may involve employers, employees, and government programs. Quality staff, adequate slots for infants and toddlers, and affordable rates are part of the challenges, but we can figure this out together.”
Patten recalled how the McKenzie County school system grew from 500 students to more than 2,000 students with the oil boom, and how the community came together to meet child care needs by creating Wolf Pup Daycare, which is now exploring a second location in Watford City.
“When we look at both our energy industry and our service industries, the ability to provide quality day care will give us that workforce that allows our economy to keep growing,” Patten said.
“To create a system that’s sustainable and invest in kids will be critical to the future of North Dakota’s workforce, that’s what it comes down to,” Davison said. ”And it’s this session now where we need to make that investment and we need to commit to an ongoing investment in the kids of North Dakota.”
O’Brien, a mother and business owner, said she knows firsthand the demand and need for child care for services. “I look forward to hearing from everyone about the needs, the services, and how do we make this the best program that we can for the state,” she said.
Spencer said that in the Chamber’s work around the state with business and community leaders, access to child care repeatedly comes up as a top workforce challenge and they frequently hear stories about individuals leaving their jobs to care for their families because child care is cost-prohibitive or they can’t find spots available.
“We know there’s broad support in the business community to address this,” Spencer said. “We support this effort and look forward to working with lawmakers as well as the Governor’s Office to move this over the finish line in the next legislation session.”
The Governor’s Office and DHHS will work with legislators and external stakeholders to continue to refine the proposal to prepare it for introduction during the 2023 legislative session.