Child care benefits all Minnesotans. It's a two-generation approach to family economic security. It allows parents to work and provide for their families, while their children succeed in a safe and nurturing environment. In turn, it supports the development of a strong current and future workforce, which is essential to a robust future economy that works for everyone.

However, child care needs to be affordable and accessible. And for many families, it isn't.

Former state Sen. Duane Benson's article ("On early education, here's some sound middle ground," Jan. 16) mischaracterizes the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) and fails to address two significant flaws surrounding the program: a 7,000-family waiting list and eroding provider reimbursement rates.

CCAP is a work-support program that helps low-income families afford the cost of child care in our state, which is among the highest in the nation. Among Minnesota's child-care-related subsidies, CCAP offers parents the most flexibility so they can get to work on time and full time, and bring home a paycheck to help meet their families' basic needs. A family's economic security and ability to meet basic needs affects child outcomes, including academic achievement.

CCAP can be used to care for children ages birth through 12 (or 14 if the child has special needs). According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, half of the children using CCAP are 5 or older. CCAP can be used to cover care during all hours of the day and week when parents may work, including early mornings, late nights and weekends. It covers the greatest amount of care to ensure that parents have the support they need to work full time.

And by allowing parents to use any provider willing to accept CCAP payments, it offers parents provider choice. In the early years of CCAP, the program was "the middle ground" and received bipartisan support.

The most urgent issue facing CCAP is funding. Our state has failed to make critical investments in the program for more than a decade. Nearly 7,000 families who need child care are on a waiting list because program funding is insufficient to cover the need for assistance. It is not unusual for a family to be on the waiting list for years; in the process, some families are pushed into deeper poverty.

Additionally, the state's reimbursement payment to providers accepting families using CCAP is eroding, and this further threatens families' access to care. Unlike a decade ago, the majority of provider rates today are not covered in full by the reimbursement, meaning that providers have to take CCAP families at a financial loss — if they choose to accept them at all.

We can all agree with Benson that child care should be of high quality. However, we must be aware that early-education mandates targeted at CCAP-accepting providers may actually have a harmful effect by restricting families' access to child care. In the past decade, the number of licensed child-care providers has declined across the state. If we impose mandates on CCAP-accepting child-care providers, we run the very real risk of losing providers and preventing families from being able to access the care they need to go to work.

It is essential that we support hardworking families. Child care supports parents' ability to go to work, and CCAP helps parents afford the care they need. It's time to focus our attention on strengthening CCAP by making sure that families who need the vital assistance it provides can obtain it.

Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, is a member of the Minnesota House. Peggy Flanagan is executive director of the Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota.