WED AM News: Child care advocate calling for greater state funding to avert looming funding cliff; State has few relocation incentive programs, report shows

— The director of the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association is calling for more public dollars for child care programs in the state to help avert a looming funding cliff. 

“Child care is probably at the most fragile place that I’ve seen it at in 20 years,” Ruth Schmidt told WisconsinEye yesterday. “And I think that COVID has just exacerbated the issue, and the staffing shortage is really tough right now for people in the field.” 

Based on projections from the Bipartisan Policy Center, the long-term economic impact of the state’s child care crisis is between $4.2 billion and $6.4 billion. That figure captures lost wages, tax base declines and loss of profitability for businesses unable to attract workers due to a lack of affordable child care options, Schmidt explained. 

A typical family with one infant is spending about one-fifth of their annual income on child care, according to advocacy group Raising Wisconsin. For a family with one infant and one 4-year-old child, that rises to one-third of their income.  

Schmidt noted the federal government provided about $700 million to Wisconsin for child care support during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that funding is due to end in January 2024. 

“We will see a complete cliff effect of this federal funding,” she said. “And what we see is that in Wisconsin, close to 30 percent of programs are saying without some sort of ongoing public support for their program, they will likely need to close their doors.” 

Figures from Raising Wisconsin, a multi-sector advocacy coalition led by WECA, show that “child care deserts” already exist in 50 percent of all Wisconsin communities, and 70 percent of rural parts of the state. These areas have more than three children under age 5 for every licensed available child care slot. 

In hopes of bolstering the industry ahead of the funding drop-off, Schmidt says state officials should consider boosting revenue allocations for child care support. She said Wisconsin currently “puts in what we consider the minimum amount” of revenue to draw down the federal child care development block grant. The state’s $16 million investment equals about $50 per child under age 5 in the state, Schmidt said. 

“I think we can do better, I think we need to do better, or this issue is going to continue to create increasing economic impact,” she said. 

Watch the full interview here: 

— Wisconsin has relatively few relocation incentive programs, which are gaining ground elsewhere in the Midwest, according to a new report. 

But two Wisconsin local governments — Fond du Lac County and the city of Merrill — have established programs aimed at bringing in more workers and residents, the Wisconsin Policy Forum says. 

The WPF report found at least 71 communities or community coalitions across the country are offering worker relocation incentive programs providing $1,000 or more in cash or “other incentives of significant value.” Forty-three of these are in Midwestern states. 

These programs are usually aimed at workers who agree to relocate to a community from outside the state and stay there for a specific time period. Cash payments offered typically range from $1,000 to $15,000, while other programs are offering a certain amount of money that can be put toward building or buying a home, student loans or other expenses. 

One such program located in Oklahoma, the Tulsa Remote program, is providing $10,000 to non-state residents working remotely for companies based outside the state who agree to live in the city for at least one year. It’s also offering other benefits like free membership to a downtown coworking space. WPF says it has brought more than 2,000 workers to the city as of Nov. 1. 

In Wisconsin, Fond du Lac County’s program is providing 50 percent matching funds for employers to offer up to $15,000 to workers who move there from outside the county. Employers fund the entire incentive upfront and can get reimbursed after a 12-month period if the worker maintains residency and employment, the report shows. It’s funded by part of the county’s sales tax revenue slated for economic development. 

After launching in September, the program had attracted 15 new workers by November with a total payroll of $1.2 million. The report shows the cost of the program is “as-yet unknown to the county” and officials recently announced it’s being reevaluated and isn’t currently accepting new applications. 

Meanwhile, Merrill is providing incentives to both current and new residents to build new housing in the city. It’s providing $10,000 for a single-family home once it’s constructed and occupied. After first launching it for developers, the city has expanded it to include individuals. Three people have participated so far, the report shows. 

“If local leaders in Wisconsin weigh whether these incentives make sense for their own communities, they must consider whether they deliver an acceptable return on investment of public or philanthropic dollars, particularly relative to other potential uses,” report authors wrote. 

See the report: 

— Labor groups are slamming Ascension for closing its labor and delivery unit at its St. Francis Hospital in Milwaukee “just days before Christmas.” 

“This abrupt and short-sighted decision will leave expecting families on the southside without a safe and accessible hospital to receive essential birthing and postnatal services,” Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Stephanie Bloomingdale said in a statement. 

These labor and delivery services are being consolidated at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee and Ascension SE Wisconsin Hospital – St. Joseph Campus, according to an Ascension Wisconsin spokesperson. The St. Francis Hospital will continue providing gynecologic, prenatal and postpartum care. 

“This consolidation ensures access to the most comprehensive labor, delivery and postpartum services to all Ascension Wisconsin moms and babies,” the spokesperson said in an email. “Birthing services leaders will work hand-in-hand with obstetricians and parents-to-be to ensure a seamless transition of care.” 

Bloomingdale also said the Missouri-based health system is laying off “dozens of hardworking union members” of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. 

In a message posted to its website, the federation says this closure will force patients in the area to travel elsewhere for care. 

“We must fight back to preserve these vital services for our community,” the group wrote. “We’re asking the City to intervene to keep these services open and demanding Ascension fund and invest in our hospital.” 

The Ascension Wisconsin spokesperson said the health system is “committed to supporting” its St. Francis employees through the transition. 

“Plans are in place to work with impacted associates to determine potential opportunities for transitioning to open positions at other Ascension Wisconsin facilities,” the spokesperson said. 

See the AFL-CIO release: 

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