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Bills would help open ND child care centers

BISMARCK - The lack of child care in North Dakota is reaching crisis proportions, say some lawmakers, business developers and children's advocates, and they're hoping two bills moving through the Legislature help.

BISMARCK - The lack of child care in North Dakota is reaching crisis proportions, say some lawmakers, business developers and children's advocates, and they're hoping two bills moving through the Legislature help.

"We are in a crisis," Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, prime sponsor of House Bill 1418, told the Senate Human Service Committee on Monday.

"We have lost 256 child care programs in North Dakota in 2008," said Rep. Phil Mueller, D-Valley City, a co-sponsor of HB 1418.

Under HB 1418 and Senate Bill 2225, local job development officials, chambers of commerce and other entities would help licensed child care providers get grants to open new child care centers. Child care providers would get assistance to hire, train and retain employees, buy equipment and fence their property.

The grant program would be part of the state Department of Commerce.

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"We have recently hosted several community forums and also heard directly from economic developers about some of the most pressing issues faced in our economy. One of those issues which keeps surfacing is the availability of safe, high-quality child care," Commerce Commissioner Shane Goettle told the House Human Service Committee during a hearing on SB 2225.

For now, the bills rely on a proposed appropriation of $2 million in state funds, but some $3.64 million of federal economic stimulus funds also is now coming to the state. The state grants would need a match of local cash, Goettle said.

Gov. John Hoeven proposed the grants during his re-election campaign last year.

Goettle and others testifying on the bills said the funds could get more services off the ground and ensure that new child care providers have a business plan and adequate facilities when they open.

"In the long run, this should enable day care providers to lower or eliminate debt service and improve their cash position," Goettle said. Centers receiving state funds that close within two years or lose their licenses would need to pay back the money or surrender equipment and furnishings.

"Child care is a complex business to run," said Blake Crosby, a manager with the North Dakota Child Care Resource and Referral organization, when he testified for SB 2225. "Low profit margins limit start-up and stability. Programs struggle to service even a small amount of debt."

Crosby asked the House Human Service Committee to boost the state funding in SB 2225 to the level Hoeven had sought at the beginning of the session, $3.5 million.

Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck, a member of the Senate Human Services Committee, said during the hearing on HB 1418 that grandparents can take care of kids, just as is happening with his own grandchildren.

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Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net

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