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Sioux Falls providers urge community help with childcare availability and affordability

Rotary-Childcare
Slater Dixon
/
SDPB
Sioux Falls School District Superintendent Dr. Jane Stavem, left, leads a discussion about childcare availability and affordability with Kerri Tietgen, center, and Rebecca Wimmer at the Sioux Falls Downtown Rotary Club.

Sioux Falls childcare providers are urging businesses and community members to help alleviate problems with childcare availability and affordability.

Rebecca Wimmer coordinates afterschool programs for the School Falls School District. In a panel discussion Monday, she told the Rotary Club of Downtown Sioux Falls that childcare providers are struggling to combat longstanding issues in the industry.

“Childcare is not going to be able to fix it on our own,” Wimmer said. “We’re out of solutions at this point, and so we really need the voice of everyone to come together and say 'What is it going to take to raise strong families?'”

Wimmer was joined by Kerri Tietgen, CEO of EmBe, a Sioux Falls nonprofit that provides childcare and after-school programs. She said workforce issues are driving the childcare shortage. State law requires providers to maintain a specific child-caretaker ratio, leading to high labor costs for childcare providers.

“The workforce is tight, and then you find someone that has that skillset, and then you find someone who has the ability to work for what we’re able to pay — that is a really small niche,” Tietgen said.

To compete with other service jobs, providers would have to raise the hourly wage they offer workers. That would likely mean increased tuition costs for parents, many of whom already struggle to afford daycare and afterschool programs.

Sioux Falls parents, Tietgen says, pay around $11,000 a year for infant care, which already provides slim profit margins for providers.

“It doesn’t make sense for someone to be able to provide infant care. There’s no way that you can do that and make money on it, or barely cover costs,” she said.

A report released by EmBe found that to raise wages to $18 an hour across the state, individual families would have to pay an average of $5,859 extra each year. Currently, childcare workers make an average of $10.39 an hour.

Wimmer said there is a substantial gap between low-income families who qualify for federal daycare subsidies and affluent families who can afford high tuition rates. A couple with two children under 5, she said, “won’t qualify for childcare assistance in most circumstances, but [will] pay a combined $17,000 in costs.”

Tietgen called on businesses to include childcare support in employee benefits.

“We’re at a point where parents need, and are requiring you as employers, to make childcare affordable,” she said.

Seventy-six percent of South Dakota children under the age of 6 in South Dakota live in a household where all adults participate in the workforce.