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Crow Wing County day cares to get funding boost

In distributing COVID-19 relief funds doled out by the federal government, county commissioners agreed to prioritize improving access to child care in light of a significant shortage of availability for parents in need of care.

Two children cutting paper with teacher at preschool
Micah Osafo, left, and Hudson Mertens cut paper figures with the help of Hannah Rybak, Dazzling Dinosaur teacher at Trinity Children's Center, on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, in Brainerd.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Nearly 200 new child care slots are expected to become available in Crow Wing County thanks to grants awarded to providers from American Rescue Plan Act funding.

The Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, Jan. 25, approved grants totaling $800,000 for a list of 25 organizations seeking to expand availability or to start a new child care business.

In distributing the COVID-19 relief funds doled out by the federal government, commissioners agreed to prioritize improving access to child care in light of a significant shortage of availability for parents in need of care. A 2021 study, which surveyed employers, parents and day care providers in Crow Wing County, showed a need for at least 1,200 more slots. And 43 in-home day cares have closed since the onset of the pandemic, according to Tyler Glynn, executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp.

Glynn previously told the board a lack of child care options exacerbates the labor crunch, prompting some parents to stay out of the workforce with no options for care. The county enlisted Glynn to assist with the application process of its grant program, as he did during previous grant rounds of COVID-19 relief funding to local businesses.

“Primarily, the goal with this was to make sure that we address our primary need of creating slots for child care in Crow Wing County,” Glynn said. “ … Obviously a tremendous need for us here, but also throughout the state. I would tell you that this county, with the work that we do, this county is the first one to address this. … I think this is an extremely, extremely important thing to address right now.”

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More than half of the funding — $456,978 — was awarded to the Brainerd Family YMCA, which in October 2021 announced plans to purchase another building to expand its child care offerings. An expected 74-85 infant and toddler spots would result from the expansion, YMCA CEO Shane Riffle told the Dispatch in December.

Other organizations awarded sizable chunks of the relief funding include the Ashdown Forest School in Breezy Point ($100,000); Monarch Beginnings in Emily ($80,000); Teeny Bubbles Childcare & Learning Center, north of Baxter ($30,000); Trinity Children’s Center in Brainerd ($29,995) and Stepping Stones Childcare in Baxter ($26,229). Another 19 providers received grants ranging from $1,824.99 to $10,000, with the majority of those receiving $2,000 grants.

I think this is an extremely, extremely important thing to address right now.
Tyler Glynn, executive director of BLAEDC
Man speaks into microphone at meeting
Tyler Glynn, executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Economic Development Corp., shares information on a grant program using American Rescue Plan Act funds to support child care businesses in Crow Wing County during the Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, County Board meeting.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Glynn noted the 25 funded organizations span all five commissioner districts, spreading the impact across the county. Some of the in-home providers who applied for funds are returning to the child care business after previously closing amid the pandemic, he said. And one particularly illustrative example of the impact of the grant dollars is the story of Monarch Beginnings, a new center in the works that expects to provide 35 new slots in the small city of Emily.

“Emily currently has no day care. So this is a really important add-on to the day care services provided in Crow Wing County,” Glynn said. “They worked with us as well as the SBDC (Small Business Development Center) … and First Children’s Finance to develop one of probably the nicest business plans I’ve seen, and we work with business plans every day. But they did a fantastic job.”

Becky Dryburgh, director of Trinity Children’s Center, said the funding will be a huge help for the nonprofit child care operation. About a year ago, the center expanded its available slots by 14, increasing its capacity to 58 children through preschool age.

The sustainability of that expansion, however, depends on maintaining the necessary staffing levels, Dryburgh said. Some of the funds offered through the grant program will be spent on staff development training and continuing education, which provides new and existing staff members with opportunities for career growth.

“These last couple years have been a challenge for all child care centers. We’ve had some highs and lows. We are continuing with those highs and lows. … You can’t increase your spots if you don’t have staffing,” Dryburgh said. “And staffing has been extremely challenging. COVID has created a very unique situation, and trying to keep everybody healthy has been exhausting.”

Dryburgh said the rest of the funding will be used to make updates to fixtures such as carpeting, tables, shelving, security equipment and appliances, providing some breathing room at a time when rising costs make some of those needs appear out of reach.

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Trying to keep everybody healthy has been exhausting.
Becky Dryburgh, director of Trinity Children's Center

“I think that overall, the sustainability and the ability to tap into these funds is something that just provides — it’s such a gift for a center like ours,” she said. “Things that are going to be able to be purchased are things that we have to save and save and save for, for years. So it’s just going to be such a relief, such a help.”

If all goes as planned, the approximately 200 additional slots supported by the grant program will make a dent in the county’s need. But the waiting list at Trinity Children’s Center — 176 children, including 46 infants — could nearly fill those slots on its own, illustrating the scope of the issue.

Glynn said this funding is a step in the right direction, but more work needs to be done to ensure centers and in-home day cares can keep those slots available in the long run. Based on restrictions placed on the use of the federal dollars, the grants could not be used to increase wages for child care workers or to hire new employees.

“This is a hard thing for us to say: sustainability is created … through wages. And this is something that’s going to have to come from other sources, because the sustainability of in-home and, even the center-based, is certainly the wage component,” Glynn said. “ … Most of these people are making between $12 and $14 an hour. So if there’s a way, somehow, that the money can come along so they can increase the wages for these folks, that’s going to help and is going to help keep these facilities open.”

More on the grant program

The funds granted to child care providers come from the first half of the $12.6 million awarded to the county in the federal American Rescue Plan Act. County Administrator Tim Houle said after Tuesday’s meeting the funds will be distributed to the grantees upon proof of purchase of what they’ve outlined in their grant applications along with proof of new licensure if applicable.

To be eligible, providers must have or plan to have a physical location in Crow Wing County, they must be licensed through the state or be obtaining a license and they must commit to operating the business for at least two years upon the acceptance of funds.

Providers may use the grant dollars on eligible expenses including child care business start-up or expansion, training, facility modifications or improvements required for licensing, assistance with licensing or other regulatory requirements, playground equipment, safety equipment, curriculum and potentially other expenses, as approved by county officials and eligible based on federal guidance.

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Funds cannot be used for lobbyists or political contributions, taxes (except sales tax on goods and services considered eligible), fundraising, bad debts, late payment fees, finance charges, contingency funds, parking or traffic violations, or out-of-state transportation and travel expenses.

Applicants were required to upload a proposal narrative describing how their request will increase the supply of quality child care, which communities are targeted and how funds would be used, along with a timeline. A detailed budget was also required, and for start-up businesses, a business plan and detailed financial projections.

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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