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Burgum, Sanford unveil child care proposal

D. Webster

Burgum says his legislative proposal will support working families and address workforce challenges in the state.

Governor Doug Burgum and Lieutenant Governor Brent Sanford have unveiled their legislative proposal to improve availability, affordability and quality of child care services in North Dakota.

Burgum says child care costs currently account for 15 to 40 percent of the average household budgets in the state, which isn’t often sustainable. He says about 6,000 employees work at 800 child care centers statewide, but with 64,000 children under the age of five living in North Dakota – many parents are met with long wait lists, if they can afford child care at all. And on the flip side – Burgum says employers struggle to find qualified workers to staff child care centers. Burgum says if North Dakota wants a thriving economy, it can’t ignore this challenge.

"Our ability to keep growing in the future - whether it's retaining an air base, or attracting multi-billion dollar investments for value added ag and energy, is going to come back to workforce, and workforce is tied to child care. I'm very optimistic about the future, but we will cap our future potential if we don't solve this problem."

Burgum says his proposal contains a framework to build legislation around, with several key aspects. This includes increasing the number of families who qualify for the Childcare Assistance Program; providing a state child care tax credit; opening up more access to grants, incentives and trainings; and providing incentives for child care providers who take steps to meet quality standards; among others.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Chris Jones says this framework provides a more productive cycle between employers, employees and their children.

"Whether it's a vicious cycle - where we keep going down, and down, and deeper - or a virtuous cycle - where you make those investments, and those dollars turn over. Just like any other economic development that happens, how many times does that turn over when you bring a business in? With child care, it's a triple whammy. One, you're turning over dollars into the community, you're putting more families in the workforce, and you're creating a workforce for the future by investing in children. So really, it's a great multiplier."

North Dakota’s Democratic-NPL lawmakers say they support these improvements to the state’s child care issue, but also say more may be required to address the statewide crisis.

Democratic Representative Zac Ista from Grand Forks says he and his wife pay $1,900 a month for their two young children to attend child care. He says what the Governor has offered is an important first step – but worries his Republican colleagues in the Legislature may not be willing to take it further.

"I think the big risk I'm worried about is attempts to pare this back by Republican law makers when we get to the Legislative session, when instead we have to be open to expanding the ideas and the framework the Governor and Lieutenant Governor set out today to make sure we're fully addressing our child care crisis. We've heard from Republican lawmakers who are ready to be governing partners on this, we've heard from the business community on how urgent the needs are. So that's going to have to be our focus this next Legislative session - to not view the Governor's framework as the ceiling for what we can do, but the floor from where we can build on to make sure we're adequately addressing this urgent crisis."

Governor Burgum’s proposal would require between $70 and $80 million over the course of the next biennium.