Finding stability for Minnesota families through affordable child care, child health care and livable wages was the topic of Tuesday's Working Family Initiative Forum at First Lutheran Church in Brainerd.
Jim Koppel, director of the Children's Defense Fund Minnesota; Jess Luce, lead organizer for Child Care WORKS; and Kevin Ristau, education director of JOBS NOW Coalition, presented information on what's happening in child care, children's health care coverage and wages within the state and their nonprofit organizations' efforts, separate and together as the Working Family Coalition, during the 2007 legislative session. They also provided information on how area residents could become advocates themselves on these issues. About 30 people attended the forum.
Koppel said in 2006, 86,000 Minnesota families lived below the poverty line, or 6.5 percent of the population, and 75 percent of those have one or more family members in the work force. The federal poverty line is $20,650 for a family of four and he said there has been a 35 percent increase in children living in poverty since 2000. Half of these children are living in deep poverty, or their family is earning below half of the federal poverty line.
Peter Keyes shared a moment with Naomi Benson as her mother, Kristena, studied material given to the attendees of the Working Family Initiative Forum Tuesday night at First Lutheran Church in Brainerd. Keyes and Benson are members of the Zion Lutheran Church. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Luce said the average cost of four years of child care is about $30,000, or more than four years of tuition at the University of Minnesota. Luce said with access barriers increasing due to state budget cuts and a weakening infrastructure, 20,700 fewer children and their families are unable to access the Child Care Assistance Program, which helps low-income families pay for child care on a sliding fee basis.
He said there has also been a decrease of 1,127 licensed child care providers between 2001-2006, which further limits access to child care. As of October of 2007, there were 3,700 families on the waiting list for child care assistance but are eligible for the program, he said.
Ristau said a family of four, two working parents with two children, would have to make $12.24 an hour each in order to meet the basic costs of living for the family in Minnesota. In Minnesota, Ristau said 37 percent of jobs pay less than this family supporting wage and if minimum wage was inflation-adjusted it should be $9.27 an hour, not $6.15 an hour. He said 20 percent of Minnesota jobs pay less than $9.27 an hour and in Greater Minnesota more than one in four jobs pay less than $9.27 an hour.
Ristau said that while the living costs are lower in the Brainerd lakes area than the Twin Cities metro area, the annual average cost of meeting basic needs for a family of four is $45,000 here and each working parent must earn at least $10.77 per hour. More than two out of five jobs in this region, or 28,000 jobs, pay less than $10.77 an hour, he said.
Ristau said the minimum wage will increase to $6.65 per hour in July but this is not enough. He said 31 states will soon have higher minimum wages than the federal minimum wage and Minnesota is tied three ways for last place among those states. He said a survey three years ago found that 70 percent of Minnesotans favor raising the minimum wage. To find out your family's cost of living calculation, go to www.jobsnowcoalition.org/costofliving.
Koppel also addressed efforts to pass the Children's Health Security Act, which would ensure all Minnesota children have access to affordable, quality health care coverage. Koppel said uninsured children do not perform as well in school and are 25 percent more likely to miss school than insured children. Koppel also said uninsured children are four times more likely to use the emergency room over insured children.
He said in 2003 a child covered under Medical Assistance cost $2,200 compared to the $12,080 cost of one hospitalization for pneumonia. There are 85,000 uninsured children in Minnesota, a number that continues to increase.
Koppel urged those in attendance to urge their legislators to become advocates on these issues. He said there were 65 legislative co-authors of the Children's Health Security Act last year, the first bill introduced in the House of Representatives. There were 35 co-authors the year before. While the bill didn't pass it has been gaining legislative support, he said.
"That's the difference you make when you believe in a goal, in a hope," said Koppel. "When we can put hope in a clear piece of legislation that you can easily talk about and demand support for. If your legislator doesn't support the Children's Health Security Act, don't send him back."
Local sponsors of Tuesday's forum included the Brainerd Lakes Area Early Childhood Coalition, Brainerd Public Library, Bridges of Hope, Central Lakes College, Child Care Resource and Referral of the Otter Tail Wadena Community Action Council Inc., Crow Wing County Health Department, Crow Wing County Licensed Family Child Care Association, Crow Wing County Social Services, Minnesota Rural CEP and Tri-County Community Action Inc.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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