Pilot grant helps parents, employers deal with ‘critical’ child care crisis

Ready for School and Goodwill Industries of West Michigan are using a state pilot grant to help parents afford quality child care, making it easier for employers to recruit and retain their workforce.

The $300,000 MI Tri-Share Child Care grant allocated for the Lakeshore region from the Michigan Women’s Commission will provide much-needed help in defraying working parents’ child care expenses by sharing the cost of care between the state, employers and employees.

“We know child care is a crisis in our communities,” says Donna Lowry, president and CEO of Ready for School, a nonprofit in Holland that prepares kindergartners for success by equipping parents and families with integrated support. “It’s looking at two pinch-points in our economy, which are the crisis of child care and the crisis of talent recruitment and retention.”

Ready for School is allocating a portion of its budget to connect employers with the program, according to Lowry.

Splitting cost three ways

Through Tri-Share, the cost of child care is divided equally between an eligible employee, their employer and the state of Michigan, with coordination provided regionally by a facilitator hub, which in the case of the Lakeshore area is Goodwill Industries.

The program is slated to run through December 2022, but Lowry quickly adds she believes it will continue beyond that date.

“It’s highly likely to continue through September 2023,” Lowry says. “There’s so much interest in it that foundations are coming alongside and saying they will also put in money to expand this program. So the current Ready for School’s relationship with this grant is not through a foundation, it’s through the state, but it is garnering enough support that I believe foundations will want this to continue.”

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and state Rep. Greg VanWoerkom (R-MI 91), championed funding for the pilot program.

Employers in six counties are eligible

Employers based in Lake, Mason, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, and Ottawa counties qualify. However, employees can live outside these counties and still quality, according to Jeanette M. Hoyer, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of West Michigan.

“So if an employer in Ottawa County has an employee who lives in Allegan County, which isn’t part of the pilot, those employees can still participate,” says Hoyer. 

“Our job as a hub is to engage employers as well as child care providers into the program. When employers sign a memorandum of understanding, that they’re going to participate, and how many slots of child care they are interested in supporting, then they refer their employees to us, and as the hub, we make sure they’re eligible for the program. The only eligibility for people (employees) is that their household income must be above 185% of the Federal Poverty Line and below 285% of the Federal Poverty Line.”

Flexibility is built into the grant program. Children can be ages infant through 12 years old, though those with disabilities are eligible up to age 26. Care can be after and before school; full- or part-time; and during the day and evening. Only licensed child care providers may participate. 

Helps workers, employers

Many in the workforce find staying on the job challenging because of the high cost of child care, but the grant money helps employers bridge that recruitment and retention gap, strengthens the talent pipeline, and provides opportunities for tax credits.

For working parents, the grant program provides a financial buffer by reducing out-of-pocket child care costs; eases the burden of finding openings at licensed child care providers; improves work-life-family balance by providing child care solutions; and removes a barrier to seeking or maintaining employment.

Word about the grant program is spreading, Hoyer says.

“We’ve actually had one employee who called us because she had two different job offers and she wondered which of those employers was participating in the child care share program,” says Hoyer. “She was really interested in an employer who was showing that kind of value for families and for their employees, and she was going to use that information in deciding which way to go.”

Although the program is in the early stages, a variety of employers have already stepped up to be included: Explorers Learning Center, Wesco, Muskegon Young Men's Christian Association, Webb Chemical Service Corp., Harbor Hospice, Community Encompass, Fresh Coast Alliance, and Goodwill Industries of West Michigan.

Read more articles by Paul R. Kopenkoskey.