In a bid to help parents return to work, Becker County has allocated $100,000 to help new daycare providers overcome a variety of challenges.

“The dollar amounts are reasonable and the premise is reasonable, “ Becker County Board Chairman Barry Nelson said at a recent county board meeting. “We need to work out the details on administering it and recouping funds if need be.”

Prior to the vote, Becker County Economic Development Coordinator Guy Fischer outlined three strategies to provide a 15% boost in the number of available daycare slots in Becker County.

“An estimated 600 slots are needed in Becker County, so 15% (80 slots) seems modest but obtainable,” he told commissioners.

Family daycare startup grants up to $10,000

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The first strategy is to provide family daycare startup grants up to $10,000, which is the estimated cost of starting a family child care business that is licensed and approved by the state.

On average, it’s a 3-6 month startup timeline, Fischer said, and the first $5,000 grant would be available after three months, with the second $5,000 coming after six months.

Providers will have to stay in business at least 30 months or pay back the grant, prorated based on length of time in business.

Several commissioners were concerned that daycare providers might get the money and then quit the business.

Nancy Jost, director of Early Childhood issues for the West Central Initiative, said her agency had good luck with a similar loan program.

“We did a forgivable loan program for several years,” she told commissioners. “We had a good response from people staying in business, and if they don’t, then paying it back,” she said.

Mary Rotter, owner of Laker Prep Preschool, also attended the meeting, and noted that the loans are up to $10,000, but not all daycare providers will need that much.

A home-based daycare caring for eight kids, but licensed for up to 10 kids, might need to make improvements to meet the base requirements for licensure to add those two extra children, she explained. Even basic state requirements can be difficult for providers to meet, she said.

Wondering why it costs $10,000 to start a home daycare?

Take a look at some of the eligible startup costs, which include Sudden Unexpected Infant Death training, Abusive Head Trauma training, and training in first aid, child development, health and safety.

And don’t forget related improvements such as fire doors from garage to house, egress windows, handrails, fire extinguishers, outdoor fence/climbers, water testing, first aid kits, fingerprinting, equipment and materials from each of the required categories, outdoor climbers, and resilient surfaces.

The county will provide a start-up pool of $100,000 for family daycare startup grants. Commissioner Larry Knutson motioned to appropriate the money and approve the program, with the details to be worked out later. Commissioner John Okeson seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

Helping new childcare providers navigate state requirements

A second strategy, funded by the Early Childhood Initiative, is to provide a “childcare navigation assistant,” to help the new daycare businesses succeed. The idea is also to recruit people interested in starting a home daycare, and help them navigate the licensing process and help with funding through early operations.

The navigation assistant would also look for new or existing funding sources to improve child care in Becker County.

“This is kind of a gap position,” Fischer explained. “We’re anticipating other funding coming into play in the not-too-distant future.”

County offers emergency help to providers through 2022

The third strategy is providing county emergency assistance grants to child care providers.

“The goal is to stabilize the local childcare industry, “ Fischer said. “We’re looking at $85,000 in 2021 and $85,000 in 2022.”

State’s new childcare plan to boost daycare pay and benefits

The county’s program will work in conjunction with the state’s new childcare plan, which includes $304 million through June of 2023 to boost pay and benefits for child care workers (at least 70% of the grant must go towards that) and help pay for equipment and other expenses faced by daycares (the other 30% of their grant).

That $304 million pot of money will also be used to help daycare providers who are able to demonstrate a financial hardship, Fischer said.

In addition, the state will spend about $102 million over the next two years to boost the Childcare Assistance Program. Fischer noted that the bulk of the money, which comes from the federal American Rescue Plan, will go to raise low pay and benefits for childcare providers.

The state is also providing $22.5 million in upgrade grants for childcare facilities.

Over a dozen government and nonprofit agencies and private businesses are involved in trying to improve the daycare situation in Becker County, through membership on the Childhood and Early Childhood Moving Forward Committee.

Jost and Rotter, for example, are on that committee, as are Karen Pifher of Essentia Health, Detroit Lakes Administrator Kelcey Klemm, and Denise Warren, director of Becker County Human Services.