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Legislature votes to ease child care rules to address worker shortage

Crain’s Detroit Business
David Eggert
June 14, 2022

LANSING — Michigan lawmakers voted Tuesday to allow more children at home-based child care centers and to reduce the minimum age of workers as ways to address a worker shortage that is making it harder to find care.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer plans to sign the bills that are supported by her administration and business groups such as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Detroit Regional Chamber, and the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance. Two main measures won approval on 98-6 and 96-8 votes in the House.

They will allow seven kids instead of six in small home operations. Large group homes can have 14 children rather than 12.

Staff can be as young as 16, down from the current minimum of 18.

A home will automatically qualify for increased capacity if it has been licensed for at least 29 straight months and has cared for one or more unrelated children during that time. The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs can rescind the designation, including if it is determined that additional capacity is not conducive to children’s welfare.

Another measure in the eight-bill package — parts of which were sent to the governor last week — requires the state Department of Education to create a contract model for infant and toddler providers to be funded with federal Child Care and Development grants. Model contracts will have to include consistent payments in advance of providing care, payments aligned with market rates, and better pay for qualified staff.

The legislation also will establish networks to help providers with coaching and training services; enable the public to see the results of investigations; and give flexibility to locate child care facilities in multiuse buildings.

“These plans prioritize needed flexibility, greater access to care, and ensuring children are safe in an improved system going forward,” Rep. Jack O’Malley, a Lake Ann Republican and sponsor of the bill to increase the number of kids at in-home providers, said in a statement. “Our current system has been a strain on families, and they’ve demanded a better approach.”

The Lansing-based Michigan League for Public Policy, which advocates for the poor, said it still has some reservations about expanding the adult-to-child ratio but applauded the legislation overall.

“These bills address the need to keep working to make child care more accessible and affordable while supporting our state’s vital child care providers, including addressing the specific challenges and needs of our home-based child care providers,” president and CEO Monique Stanton said.

Last month, the Whitmer administration announced a plan to spend $100 million to open 1,000 new or expanded child care programs before 2025. That includes $51 million in grants to renovate and upgrade facilities, $23 million in startup funding to help places immediately after they get licensed, $14 million to make the licensing process clearer and faster, and $11 million to recruit, train and retain early educators.

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