Minnesota kids in poverty on the rise as cuts loom


With the ink barely dry on the debt ceiling deal and the specter of more cuts to social services to come, local nonprofits are gearing up to try to keep their slice of the federal budget pie.

They’re not alone.

Case in point: more than 700 callers from across the country dialed in to a conference call Tuesday hosted by the National Women’s Law Center to learn about possible cuts to early childhood programs supported by federal dollars, and how to respond.

The potential cuts come as the human toll of the Great Recession continues to be documented in fresh poverty data. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, though ranking Minnesota No. 2 for child health in its 2011 Kids Count Data Book, reports this week that the percent of children in poverty in Minnesota is now at 14 percent — a stunning increase of 56 percent between 2000 and 2009. (The national average increase was 20 percent.) In 2000, Minnesota had the second lowest poverty rate in the country. By 2009, Minnesota fell to 11th.

Poverty numbers like these in Minnesota and around the country and the looming government cutbacks worry advocates of programs that nourish the minds and bodies of poor American children. Those efforts include education, nutrition and child-care programs — Title I, WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) which allows parents to go to jobs to provide better lives for their families. None of these are exempt from cuts, callers heard.

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Mary Nienow, executive director of Child Care Works in Minnesota, was energized by the conference call.

Organizations have, she says, to focus on funding issues for the fiscal year 2012 as well as any cuts by the recently-named congressional “super committee” for the next 10 years and advocate for their programs. That means tooting their own horns to members of Congress at home on recess these days.

Minnesota programs

That’s important here. In Minnesota earlier this week, Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson noted the vulnerability of a number of programs in the state, including subsides for child care.

Right: Lucinda Jesson (MinnPost photo by James Nord)

Nienow, whose organization advocates for quality, accessible, affordable child care, says people need to hear “how important child care is for the economy, as well as the education piece, the rapid brain development at early ages and the importance of access to quality child care settings while a parent is at work.”

That’s exactly the kind of thing Jan Karrmann, owner of Just Kidding Around Daycare & Preschool, wants to tell U.S. Sen. Al Franken during his scheduled to visit her Lakeville site Friday.

The senator may help kids put together a puzzle or join them in puppet play while she conveys her feelings. “Quality, affordable child care is not one of the programs that should be cut,” she says, noting a recent 2.5 percent cut in the CCAP program, which affects 10 or 12 families of the 60 her business serves in Lakeville.

“We’re eating the cost of the cut for our lower income families,” she says, but businesses cannot continue to do that.

To bring the issue home, Nienow cites these 2011 forecasts for Minnesota. On average about 37,421 children will receive Child Care Assistance monthly. That translates into $141.6 million federal dollars, $77.1 million state dollars and $3 million in county dollars.

Also, the Minnesota Legislature cut spending to child care this summer by $26 million.

‘Important role’

Speakers who took part in Tuesday’s conference call included Helen Blank, NWLC ‘s director of leadership and public policy, Adele Robinson of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and Danielle Ewen of CLASP.

“You all play a very important role in convincing members of Congress” to secure funding, Harriet Dichter, national director of First Five Years Fund, told listeners.

Early childhood programs are widely beneficial, she said. In the near-term there is a payoff to the economy with dollars helping stimulating local economies and assisting parents to help them stay on the job so they can support their own children.

Besides that, Dichter said, there is compelling research and evidence that investing in children means a “smarter, stronger and healthier country.”