The scrambling by working parents will intensify now that Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin has ruled that some child care assistance payments are not critical or in need of funding during a state government shutdown. Some child care facilities have already informed parents that they might close during the shutdown because they are so dependent on state funding to support their operations, said Ann McCully, executive director of the Minnesota Childcare Resource & Referral Network.
"A lot of child care programs don't have any kinds of (financial) reserves," McCully said, nor are they in much of a position to obtain a short-term loan or line of credit.
While thousands of low-income families in Minnesota receive state assistance for child care payments, McCully said the impact of the shutdown will affect many more, because the closure of a facility would affect all families. Some parents might take time off work to watch their kids, hoping the shutdown will be brief and their employers will be sympathetic. Some might not have any choice but to quit.
"There's a great deal of fear among parents that they will lose their jobs" when they lose their child care, McCully said. "Will employers understand that this has been deemed this way?"
Other parents might make the risky choice of leaving children at home alone or leaving them with young siblings during the day.
Child care centers in OK financial shape might offer scholarships to needy families during the shutdown, or continue to serve self-pay families but deny care to the subsidized families.
In any given month, there are more than 30,000 children benefiting from state child care subsidy payments. The court ruling would permit the funding of child care assistance to families on the Minnesota Family Investment Program, which helps low-income families move off state welfare rolls, McCully said. It would not permit funding of low-income, working families who receive state child care assistance on a sliding scale based on their income. Nearly 10,000 families and 17,000 children receive sliding fee child care benefits on an average month in Minnesota.
"These families do not have good alternative options: parents must often choose between quitting their jobs in order to directly care for their children, or leaving their children in unsafe or poorly monitored environments," child care leaders argued in a June 22 filing with the court. "Either way, they are faced with immediate well-being and safety concerns and long-term instability, and the State will incur additional costs.