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TROUBLE FOR STRUGGLING FAMILIES: Shutdown leaves daycare in crisis

When Minnesotans complain about the government shutdown affecting "the little people," they're right on.

Some daycare children are being tossed out on their little diapered behinds as daycare assistance has come to a screeching halt.

Where once families needing assistance received up to $107 per child, per week (depending on each family's required co-pay), there are now zero payments going out -- leaving struggling families fending for themselves or daycare providers working for free.

Mandi Green is the director of the Bethlehem Lutheran Preschool and Daycare in Frazee.

She says out of nine children enrolled in her daycare, eight of them are from families that receive daycare assistance.

Green says when they knew the government was likely shutting down, they sent a letter to the parents requesting they pitch in what they could in order to stay open.

"I haven't heard anything from them, but because we still have a little extra cushion saved up, we are able to keep functioning through the end of the month."

Green says if the shutdown continues after that, the daycare and preschool will likely shut its doors.

That would put her and two others out of a job and would make it nearly impossible for some families to make ends meet.

"The people who need daycare assistance are exactly the people who need to be out there working," said Green, who added she doesn't know of any other daycare that would open its doors to families unable pay.

Making matters worse, the state has thus far made its guidelines regarding daycare assistance clear as mud.

Becker County Human Services Director Nancy Nelson says they've been getting a lot of phone calls from frustrated daycare providers and daycare assistance recipients who want clarification on what they're supposed to do.

Nelson says she still can't give them that clarification because the county is still waiting on state officials for that information.

"I've been waiting for those answers since last week," said a frustrated Nelson.

"We don't know if families or daycare providers will get reimbursed for care received during this time, which cases are considered essential and which ones are not, or how the ones who are considered essential are supposed to get paid."

Nelson says this is because the whole Department of Human Services computer system is shut down, leaving billing and payments impossible.

And while some families who typically receive assistance are managing to pay full daycare prices, Nelson says the reason they may not get reimbursed is because the budget is still such a mystery.

"With this huge deficit, things will get cut, and if it's big cuts to the Department of Human Services, there might not even be the money there to give back, so the DHS is making no promises."

Also affected are daycare providers who either didn't renew their licenses in time for the shutdown or those who switched locations.

"Whenever you move your daycare or make a change, a state fire marshal needs to re-inspect the house or facility, and obviously they can't do that now."

That means those daycare providers are prohibited from working.

So as Minnesota legislators crack the record for the longest government shutdown in state history, children at Bethlehem Lutheran Preschool and Daycare -- along with other daycares across the state -- practicing counting the days before their shutdown.

"It really bothers me too," said Green, "because the people in the government (legislature) are getting paid with no problem, but they're not thinking of the little people who need a job, who need to be working. We have a good program here, and it would be a shame to see it go."

All but essential state services shut down at midnight on June 30 as state leaders were unable to reach an agreement on how to bridge a projected $5 billion budget deficit.

Republicans control both houses of the state Legislature and want to balance the budget through deep cuts, while DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is pushing for his plan, which combines cuts with an increase in income taxes on those making over $1 million a year.