Lawmakers, Whitmer push legislation to ease path for child care providers

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Democratic and Republican Michigan House lawmakers announced plans Tuesday to improve child care options by eliminating some red tape hindering the facilities, especially in-home day care operations. 

They were joined by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who on Monday recommended ways to spend about $1.4 billion in federal child care funds. 

The plans outlined would allow providers access to multi-use buildings, such as strip malls, to locate their services; put some health and safety records online; and enhance reporting requirements.

Whitmer called it a "strong start" to addressing the child care issues facing Michigan residents. 

"This bill package in addition to the budget I’ve proposed would help us take huge steps forward," Whitmer said at a Tuesday press conference at the state Capitol.

State data show about 75% of kids live in regions with limited access to child care. And child care was one of the top three issues people voiced during campaign season, said Rep. Jack O'Malley, R-Lake Ann.

But it's been difficult to gain traction up until recently on fixes to the system, he said.  

"COVID kind of helped to bring the childcare issue out of the shadows,” O'Malley said.

The legislation expected to be introduced in House Tuesday is not anticipated to be the last set of changes to the child care industry, he said. 

"We could not fix every issue that’s wrong with child care right now in one set of bills," O'Malley said. "This is the first step.”

State Rep. Jack O'Malley

Among the changes, the legislation would allow child care providers more freedom in location, publish more health and safety records online, and give child care providers a 90-day grace period to come into compliance with new health or safety rules. 

The legislation also would increase the worker-to-children ratio from one to six to one to seven, create "child care networks" where providers could find business support and develop a contract model that would make it easier to establish infant and toddler child care facilities in "child care deserts."

There are 10 counties in the state with no infant or toddler care providers, O'Malley said. 

Whitmer announced Monday that the state would spend $1.4 billion in COVID-19 stimulus funds to bolster the child care industry and boost what is typically a $250 million state allocation toward child care. Her plan would expand income eligibility for low or no-cost child care and increase pay for child care workers. 

The $1.4 billion was allocated by the federal government specifically for child care. 

The House in May proposed spending $1.4 billion in May to make more people eligible for child care aid, waive copays, increase provider reimbursement rates and give child care providers business support grants. 

But the House tie-barred the funding to limits on the governor's ability to transfer funds within departments.