Opinion: Innovative child care programs fill important gaps | Opinion

By Seth Johnson

Childcare is the foundation of a community. Quality and affordable childcare is paramount, and parents are often asked to provide care during pregnancy. Northern Michigan is no exception where the need for childcare exceeds the availability. The transportation options available for picking up and dropping off children, the hours of operation of the facility, and location can all be factors in determining whether childcare is a viable option – if the facility even has a vacancy.

Samantha Irish was fortunate enough to get a position for Munson’s Children’s Educational Services at NMC’s Children’s Learning Center, which meant that her daughter Rylee was eligible for the Munson Kids Club. Munson’s childcare enabled Samantha to work full-time. However, childcare costs are high and often play a role in whether a parent can afford to work.

Fortunately, Samantha heard about the Tri-Share pilot childcare program and was one of the first to apply. Samantha initially applied with the words: “We accept any help we can get. We’re trying to pay for the gas. We try to pay for diapers and food. “

The Tri-Share pilot is working with employers, eligible employees, and the State of Michigan to reduce childcare costs by one-third for each party. United Way of Northwest Michigan, with support from the Great Start Collaborative of Traverse Bay and 5toONE, is leading the administration of the Tri-Share program in Northwest Michigan – one of three pilot locations in Michigan. The first step in the pilot project is to attract interested employers – who must have offices in the counties of Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska or Leelanau. Employees from registered employers are entitled to an income between 185-285 percent of the state poverty line, adjusted for household size. Tri-share funds can be used for childcare, pre- or aftercare, summer care, and preschool. Six employers are currently registered in the five-district area, of which 11 are enrolled eligible employees. There is still room for other employers and employees to register for the first pilot program. Tri-Share administrators can help interested employers and employees to take the necessary steps with further information on our website.

The Tri-Share program enabled Samantha and her husband, Ethan, to earn enough money to qualify for a home loan. They currently live in Ethan’s parents’ trailer, two hours from Traverse City, and have only ever lived in military shelters. While they look forward to the prospect of becoming a first-time home owner at some point, they’ll still drive 45 minutes or more as their search focuses on apartments in Cadillac.

“With our two paychecks together, we still couldn’t afford anything in Traverse City. It’s too expensive, ”explains Samantha. Good quality, affordable childcare is only part of a community-wide puzzle. The Tri-Share Pilot is an innovative way to meet the needs of families, employers and childcare providers and to help us all find solutions together.

About the author: Seth Johnson is the Executive Director of United Way of Northwest Michigan.

About the Author: Seth Johnson is the Executive Director of United Way of Northwest Michigan.

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