Calhoun County

Battle Creek Shared Services Alliance becomes hub for childcare program that splits costs three ways

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Calhoun County series.

In the early stages of the pandemic, the leadership of Marshall Excelsior began to see an exodus of a portion of their workforce. Those leaving the manufacturer had concerns about maintaining their personal health and safety. About 15 of whom were single parents, men, and women, who also faced concerns about how they were going to navigate virtual learning for their children and find quality, affordable child care that would allow them to continue to work.

“We had 14 or 15 women and men who separated from our company or took a leave of absence because they just couldn’t do the virtual learning and the childcare” while they were working, says Jacquelyn Murray, Human Resources Manager with Excelsior, a manufacturer of liquified petroleum gas and anhydrous ammonia equipment. “We’re in critical manufacturing. We had to stay open and keep working. We saw individuals with younger children who had childcare issues and we did everything could to work with them.”

To assist their employees, the company reached out to the Battle Creek Shared Services Alliance, which provides services such as centralized billing and enrollment services, professional development, technical assistance, and professional development to child-care centers for a monthly membership fee. Murray says a conversation with Kathleen Moore, Executive Director for BCSSA, about child care options for Excelsior employees included a discussion about an opportunity for the company to join the MI Tri-Share Child Care program.

Jacquelyn Murray, Human Resources Manager with Marshal Excelsior Co. in Marshall, Mich.With the blessing of company leadership, Murray contacted Tri-Share officials to let them know that Excelsior wanted to participate. The company is now among four businesses in Calhoun County that are participating in one of two new Tri-Share regional pilot programs funded through an $800,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The other pilot program is located in Detroit.

Battle Creek Shared Services Alliance and Mothering Justice in Detroit will serve as the new facilitator hubs administering the WKKF grant dollars, according to a press release about the grant funding. They each will receive $300,000. The balance of the grant dollars will pay for an outside evaluation of how Tri-Share is working, and go to  investment in and support for child care providers, such as training and professional development, says Kelly Christman, Early Childhood Investment Corp. Project Manager, Child Care Innovation Fund.

The Tri-Share facilitator hubs for Calhoun County and the City of Detroit join hubs currently administering the pilot program in the Great Lakes Bay Region, Northwest Lower Peninsula region, and West Michigan region. 
 
In March 2021 the MI Tri-Share Child Care pilot was launched by the Michigan Women's Commission in three regions within the state: the Great Lakes Bay Region, Muskegon area, and Traverse City area. 

The program is focused on ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) families and divides their child-care costs so that the parents pay one-third, their employer pays one-third, and the state pays one-third.

Murray says she thinks Tri-Share will help those employees who qualify while also sending a strong message about Excelsior’s commitment to supporting its employees.

“I have someone who works for me and we have had conversations about her sister’s struggles with child care issues,” Murray says. “I have a large family and I just know that if an employer is willing to invest in the lives of its employees and their families, it sends a message that we care about you and want to help you through it.”

In the Jan. 21 press release announcing the grant, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said, “Our investment in high-quality, affordable child care, continues to help parents get back to work and is foundational to our economic recovery. As we drive down the cost of child care in Michigan, these lasting investments and public-private partnerships will empower us to help more working families in Michigan. In Michigan today, one in three children 12 and under are eligible for low or no-cost childcare, and we will continue working to expand access and lower costs.”  
 
The Michigan Women's Commission received an initial grant of $1.1 million from the state in early 2021 to cover the cost of the pilot program. A short time later the MWC received an additional allocation of $2.5 million in state funding to expand the pilot to other regions. This was followed by the WKKF grant which will be used to cover child care efforts in Calhoun County and Detroit.

Moore says participating companies in Calhoun County are in the process of “identifying their employees who qualify based on income levels.”

People who work for a participating employer and were between 186 percent to 300 percent of the federal poverty level could qualify for the program. For a family of four, that would be an annual salary of around $40,200 to $66,300 per year. The “Economic Policy Institute” says the average child care cost in Michigan for a 4-year-old was almost $9,000 a year. It estimated the annual child care cost for an infant at almost $11,000.

“We need to gauge how many will participate,” Murray says. “I had a couple of people approach me, but I think there’s a couple more. It’s a pride issue for some, but we’re saying ‘Here it is. Let’s see how we can help you.’”

Moore says she and her staff will work with participating employees to find a center for their children and help them through the enrollment process.

“We will use money from the grant to pay the state’s one-third share of the cost,” she says.

Currently, Battle Creek Shared Services Alliance is working with four member child-care centers including the Presbyterian Center for Children in Marshall.

“If we have strong interest from employees, we will be reaching out to other centers to find out if they want to be a part of this,” Moore says.

The long game

Tri-Share was borne of conversations between the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of business and community leaders and was championed in Michigan’s State House by Rep. Greg VanWoerkem, R-Norton Shores, according to Cheryl Bergman, CEO of the Michigan Women's Commission.

The program received bipartisan support in the state legislature and is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States, Bergman has said.

The Michigan Women's Commission took the lead after seeing an increasing number of women leaving the workforce because they could not locate safe, affordable child care options for their children.

A report compiled by Michigan’s Department of Technology Management and Budget released earlier this year titled “Women in the Michigan Workforce,” shows that between February and December 2020 about 136,000 women left the state's labor force, a 5.8 percent decline. By July of 2021, that number had jumped to 229,000, Bergman says.

The name given to this decline is “Shecession”.

“We are focused on a women’s economic recovery,” Bergman says in an earlier story for Second Wave Southwest Michigan. “This Shecession, due to the pandemic and women leaving the workforce for caregiving duties, could set women back years and years and years on the movement we’ve made. Employers in the state need these women in the workforce and need them to come back. Child care is a big piece of that.”

Faye Nelson, Director of Michigan Programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, says the Kellogg Foundation awarded the $800,000 grant because it wanted to “support the continued expansion and success of Tri-Share. High-quality, cost-effective child care needs to be regarded as a basic public service and a means to position every child to achieve future success.”

Like other companies that have chosen to participate in Tri-Share, Murray says Excelsior views this as an impactful tool to recruit and retain employees. She says she believes that there are a lot of women with child care issues and this program may be one of the more effective ways to entice them back into the workforce.

She says for her employer it’s less about a change in the corporate culture and more about doing what’s right for their employees.

“I see myself as wanting to do what’s right for people and if that changes things for other companies that’s a good thing,” Murray says. “Our leadership style is more servant-based. We know that our team members are our number one asset. If we can help them out, let’s do that. When you can partner with somebody and you can show them that ‘We care about your life outside as well as inside of work’ it helps them to navigate through and they have a higher chance of being successful.”

Moore says, “We all know that quality child care is tough for families to find and pay for, especially for those who don’t have disposable income. Tri-Share makes quality child care more accessible for families so they’re not choosing between work and child care.”

 

Read more articles by Jane Simons.

Jane Simons is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.