Updated: June 16, 2021 11:09 PM
Created: June 16, 2021 11:02 PM
(ABC 6 News) - Child care centers not only take care of kids. They teach and help them grow.
But for some, their future depends on what Minnesota lawmakers will do after a financially painful pandemic.
The federal government has allocated billions of dollars of money to states under the American Rescue Plan but Minnesota legislators haven't decided how those funds will be used. It's part of the budget debate going on at the legislative special session.
Child care providers said without the money, the nation's economy won't be able to recover. While they said they're thankful they made it this far with COVID-19 relief funding, they said they're back to the same challenges pre-pandemic.
It looks and sounds more like it should at Listos Preschool and Childcare in Rochester.
Kids are playing together and a full staff is helping.
"We have a very close-knit community," said Viriadna Anguiano, program director. "When we say it's a school family, it really is."
But more than one year ago, the classroom was almost empty.
"We dropped a lot of enrollment and it was a struggle at first because we also needed funding to stay afloat," Anguiano said.
But even with more kids enrolling now, providers said the funding shouldn't stop.
Anguiano said the money does more than keep their doors open, especially as an English-Spanish dual immersion program.
"I feel like we touch a lot of families," Anguiano said. "It's not just about them coming to our school, they're coming to people that want better for them."
Helping families is what makes the already tight budget that providers get worth the work.
"We're here because we know this is vital, important work," said Karin Swenson, Meadow Park Preschool and Child Care Center executive director.
But to do that work, Swenson said major changes, beyond the federal funds, are needed to fix the child care system. She said more affordable child care options and better pay for employees are needed overall.
"The money from the state has been great but now it’s dwindling away and we’re still kind of sitting at the same space that we were before the pandemic," Swenson said.
Swenson said she's hoping the allocation of those federal funds will be used effectively. Long-term, she said she's also hoping for higher reimbursement rates that go toward the child care industry.
"Our legislators have really dropped the ball when we have all this money coming in from the federal government. They really could've done some huge, systemic [changes]," Swenson said. "It's not happening."
Providers will keep doing their jobs because so many families are depending on them.
"If the government would be able to provide more for us, I think they would benefit because then those children become doctors, become people who are important," Anguiano said.
An investment today that could change children's lives in the future.
Minnesota lawmakers must make an agreement, including on that $52 billion budget, by the end of the month or risk another government shutdown.
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