Bill to address critical child care needs passes N.D. Senate

After numerous changes throughout the course of the North Dakota legislative session, House Bill 1422, also known as the childcare bill, passed both chambers April 30.

By BRYCE MARTIN

Herald Editor

Posted May 3, 2013 

After numerous changes throughout the course of the North Dakota legislative session, House Bill 1422, also known as the childcare bill, passed both chambers April 30.

The legislation contains $6 million to address child care needs and improve quality throughout the state.

Dunn County only has three licensed child care facilities – one in Halliday and two in Killdeer.

In 2012, there were 129 children between the ages of zero and five that potentially could require care in the county, representing an increase in children and a decrease in licensed providers. Industry leaders felt that meeting 50 percent of potential demand is adequate within the marketplace, with licensed care currently only meeting 9.4 percent of the potential demand within Dunn County.

The city of Killdeer secured a substantial grant from the North Dakota Governor’s Child Care Grant program to help construct and staff a centralized child care center. $230,000 of the necessary $269,000 construction costs was raised and a trained, licensed provider is onboard to open the day the building is completed.

The child care bill has gone through multiple changes since being introduced in early January. Initially, HB 1422 included over $15 million for child care stabilization grants. The North Dakota House reduced this funding to $2.1 million prior to crossover.

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, successfully amended the bill in the Senate Appropriations Committee to add the additional $3.9 million in funding. The increase in funding for child care comes in addition to Senate action which earlier removed careless language regarding the number of children per age level that are allowed in a given child care facility.

“We have stated time and time again that child care is both an economic and family issue,” Mathern said. “We need to be able to give families safe care for their kids. The funding level contained in this bill is an improvement, but more must be done for our children and their parents.”

The final version of the bill raises income eligibility for childcare assistance from 50 percent to 85 percent in state median income. The legislation also includes $1 million for grants for childcare facilities and $300,000 for special needs childcare. This increase in state median income levels places North Dakota No. 1 in the country alongside Texas and Colorado in providing child care relief through subsidies.

“This bill is a benefit to child care centers, parents and children in North Dakota,” co-sponsor of the bill Sen. Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, said. “We give child care facilities more stability and ability to hire staff while at the same time giving families more purchasing and saving power without them having to worry about their center’s fees increasing. We are opening the door for sustainable child care in North Dakota.”

In its original form, the bipartisan HB 1422 had over $15 million for child care stabilization grants, with specific allocations to western North Dakota. That was initially slashed to $2.1 million for IT purposes.

However, after lengthy conference committee meetings and negotiations, both the North Dakota Senate and House came to a compromise.

“There is of course more we could have done, but are very pleased with this compromise and know during the next legislative session more minds will be turned in support of expanding child care services in a growing North Dakota,” Sen. Tyler Axness, D-Fargo, said. “We look forward to leading that charge.”

Contact Bryce Martin at bmartin@countrymedia.net.


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