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Daycare providers brace for impact of federal funding losses

An article in today’s Detroit Free Press neatly sums up the problem with daycare in Michigan. Currently, daycare providers can receive COVID-19 relief subsidies from the federal government. The money allows daycare providers to pay employees a living wage and buy supplies. On October 1, the money stops flowing.

The likely result is that wages will drop to market rates – approximately the minimum wage. When that happens, scores of people currently employed in the childcare industry will likely quit because they can’t live on Michigan’s $10.10 minimum wage.

Nationally, analysts predict that as many as 70,000 childcare centers and independent daycare providers could exit the sector, creating a 3-million-child gap between the childcare supply and demand. In Michigan, parents of more than 56,000 children could find themselves without childcare this fall. Another 4,000 childcare workers could find themselves out of a job as centers close. That will have a negative impact on Michigan families and may through tens of thousands of women back out of the workforce for lack of childcare.

Washtenaw County leads the State of Michigan in childcare costs. It is damned expensive to have childcare these days, and finding care is unimaginably hard. Washtenaw Community College could have been part of the solution here but chose to be part of the problem instead. The permanent closure of the Children’s Center on campus has virtually guaranteed that student parents can’t find childcare – a clear barrier to their educational goals.

Making money is obviously very important to someone at WCC. That was (and remains) the rationale for operating the Health and Fitness Center. This quasi-private health club was the pet project of the previous executive, who subsequently landed on the payroll of the Health and Fitness Center’s management company.

Daycare providers desperately needed

For some reason, the Board of Trustees has remained stiff necked in its support of this facility. To date, the Health and Fitness Center has never broken even, much less turned a profit. Nor has it ever made enough money to pay its own way, as it was supposed to when the Board originally authorized it. In fact, it has lost millions of dollars and continues to do so.

The building itself has been plagued with problems arising from shoddy construction. That includes a cracked foundation from flexing in the building’s steel superstructure; replacement of hot tubs in all three locker rooms and extensive early locker room renovations; expensive pool filter repairs caused by incidental damage during what was supposed to have been normal maintenance; and extensive wear and tear caused by deliberate oversubscription well beyond the limits of the building’s design. And the building was never intended for student use. The Health and Fitness Center was always intended for use by the general public, despite the fact that Washtenaw County taxpayers already subsidize a recreation and fitness center just two miles away.

Between the bond debts and the hellacious maintenance costs, the WCC Board of Trustees has wasted tens of millions of dollars meant for education on the Health and Fitness Center. If the Trustees wanted a surefire money-maker, they should have built a childcare center that provided heavily discounted childcare services to its students and unsubsidized childcare services to members of the general public. That would have been in keeping with the mission of the college. It would have provided a necessary and valuable service to the community; and it would have actually cleared a profit.

Photo Credit: Toby Bochan , via Flickr