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Pilot program cuts down child care bills for some Michigan families

The MI Tri-Share Program is an effort to help families find quailty, affordable child care.

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Children playing with toys.

Children playing with toys.

SAGINAW COUNTY, Mich. (WJRT) - Raising kids is expensive. And it was something Tamara Tucker of Saginaw was seeing again.

Tucker was raising her three-year old grandson Kiyen Khalil after her daughter died in 2019.

“Now that my career has changed, I’m working during the day… I’m looking for a quality daycare that’s going to be sensitive to his needs.”

It also had to be affordable, which could be a challenging balance to find.

The think tank Economic Policy Institute said the average child care cost in Michigan for a 4-year-old was almost $9,000 a year. It estimated the annual child care cost for an infant at almost $11,000.

Executive Director of Early Childhood for Saginaw Intermediate School District Ericka Taylor said it was a problem for many families.

“If you have more than one child, and they need childcare... sometimes you’re just going to a job just to pay for child care.”

That’s where a new pilot program came in. The Michigan Women’s Commission said it spoke with women across the state about economic security and job opportunities in late 2019 and early 2020.

CEO Cheryl Bergman said finding child care had been a problem even before the pandemic.

“Affordable, accessible child care were at the top of the list, pretty much everywhere we went.”

The challenges were made even more evident in the pandemic. Now the commission was running the `MI Tri-Share Child Care Program.’

“The idea is the employer pay a third of childcare costs, the employee pay a third, and the state of Michigan pays a third,” said Bergman.

People who worked for a participating employer and were between 150% to 250% of the federal poverty level could qualify for the program. Taylor said for a family of four, that would be an annual salary of around $40,200 to $66,300 per year.

“They’re not eligible for childcare subsidy at the state, but they still struggle to pay to work and to pay the high costs of childcare,” said Bergman.

According to the Michigan Women’s Commission, the state’s share of the costs for part or full-time child care would come from a $1 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It said one-third would be paid by participating employers, which could help businesses hire and keep workers.

The Saginaw Independent School District was one of state’s three facilitator hubs, running the pilot for the Great Lakes Bay Region. It included Arenac, Bay, Clare, Gladwin, Gratiot, Isabella, Midland, and Saginaw counties.

Taylor said employers were showing interest in the program, the first in the country.

According to Bergman, “They are recognizing that childcare is a huge barrier to people coming to work and being at work and feeling comfortable that their children are cared for.”

Taylor said the hub was looking for businesses and companies who wanted to be a part of the pilot.

“We are hoping that this will kind of build a sustainable model that can be replicated across Michigan and across the United States.”

Which Tucker believed could make a big difference for families.

“The sensitivity in the process. You know, parents already feel bad because it can be a challenge financially for them. And it’s not that they want free child care. It’s the help behind it.”

The MI Tri-Share Child Care pilot was scheduled to run through next April. The commission said with bi-partisan support, it hoped to expand with an additional $2 million in funding, as recommended in Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s 2022 budget.

For more information on the program, click here.

Copyright 2021 WJRT. All rights reserved.

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