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Energy funding set aside to help Oil Patch child care crunch

BISMARCK -- State officials agreed Wednesday to move forward with a pilot program that aims to provide more child care in western North Dakota's Oil Patch.

The Board of University and School Lands set aside $500,000 of energy impact grant funding for the cost-share program.

Oil-producing cities or other political subdivisions can apply for up to $125,000 to create new openings for child care.

The money can be used to help buy a community-owned modular child care facility to lease to a for-profit or nonprofit operator. The money could also be used to help build a public early childhood facility or expand an existing publicly owned and privately operated childhood facility.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple proposed the idea to the board a few weeks ago. The state's energy impact grant program has helped other infrastructure needs in western North Dakota, but the "tremendous need" for day care services hasn't been addressed, Dalrymple said.

State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt again expressed concern Wednesday that the state was competing with the private sector by offering the grants.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said they want families to come to western North Dakota, but there needs to be day care for them to come to. He said the program is a pilot, and they can see how it works.

"I don't think anybody is going to object because the need is so overwhelming," he said.

Dalrymple said he was confident the state wasn't taking away private-sector opportunities. The supply of home-based child care is exhausted, and it's too expensive in today's market to buy property and start a day care, he said.

Eligible western North Dakota governments that apply for grant funding will need to demonstrate inadequate child care capacity and would need to acquire the property for the child care facility.

The board plans to consider the applications in late July.