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Child care assistance being expanded

Changes at the state and federal level will allow more North Dakota parents to qualify for child care assistance, but reimbursement levels may not keep up with provider rates.

Child care has been a growing need in North Dakota for decades, but it has become a critical necessity to provide workers in a state with a 3.3 percent unemployment rate.

"I receive lots of parent calls and have lots of communication with parents and providers about child care and about the child care needs," said Jennifer Barry, Early Childhood Services administrator for the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

The department hosted a statewide public hearing Thursday over interactive television to receive comments about the North Dakota state plan for child care development.

There were eight sites connected to Bismarck throughout the state including Devils Lake, Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot, Valley City and Williston. In Dickinson, the interactive television classroom at Klinefelter Hall was connected and open for the public to submit comments.

Human Services is also taking written comments through 5 p.m. CDT Monday.

Federal child care assistance provides assistance on a sliding scale to individuals making up to 85 percent of the state median income.

"Out here and I'm assuming in Williston and some of the counties that are being impacted by oil the day care rates are much higher than the maximum allowable," said Marcy Decker of Stark County Social Services.

The state median income is increasing to $69,000 for a family of three as of July 1, but that may not be enough. Reimbursement copayments are based on set rates, which vary by age of child and type center, but falls in the range of $65 to $165 per week per child.

Rates are higher in Dickinson. Decker said she has a client who qualifies for assistance based on income, but has to pay more than her copay for her two children in the toddler to preschool age range because her rate is $3.70 per hour per child, or $166 per week for each child figuring they are at day care for nine hours while mom is at work for eight.

Her copayment should have been $179 for the month of May, but was $470 because her rate was higher than the state maximum.

"That's $7.40 per hour she's paying in day care and she's probably making

$11 or $12 per hour," Decker sad.

The numbers provided for Thursday's meeting are not final, said Carol Cartledge, director of economic assistance policy division for the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

"When the state plan goes out in October, it will have these new July rates, but that doesn't mean that somewhere in between there if it looks like it's feasible for us to change those and stay within budget, we would do those," Cartledge said. "We do that whenever we feel we can make those types of changes."

The increase in income eligibility will allow more people to receive assistance, Decker said.

The biggest help of all would for more providers to open and provide more spaces.

"It seems like we license one and one closes, we don't seem to be getting ahead in terms of numbers for day care spots in the area," said Jeri Weiss of Stark County Social Services.

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Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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