Covering child care costs could help employers find workers. A new state grant program looks to test it.

As Wisconsin employers continue to struggle to hire and retain workers, state officials are hoping a year-long grant program will show companies that making childcare a benefit for their employees is a good investment.

The State Department of Children and Families announced that 88 additional businesses across the state have received a grant from their partner Up! be obtained. Program. The $10 million grant program, funded by the Federal American Rescue Plan Act, allows employers to meet the cost of childcare for their employees’ children for a year.

The program was first announced in February as part of a larger effort by the agency to build partnerships between employers and childcare providers. More than 100 companies received funding in the first round announced at the end of May.

DCF Secretary Emilie Amundson said many employers she spoke to in the state are interested in offering childcare benefits. But she said they are looking for more security before offering it as a benefit.

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“We’re hoping that this pilot program will give the state of Wisconsin some data to say, ‘This is something that’s working,'” Amundson said during a press conference Wednesday in La Crosse.

She points to a DCF survey of more than 1,000 companies statewide last year. It found that 73 percent of respondents, including business owners and employees, believed employers should provide childcare support to address labor shortages. Among them were 65 percent of entrepreneurs and 84 percent of employees.

“Childcare is the work that makes other work possible. And that’s why it’s critical that our economies and our communities engage in the conversation about childcare,” Amundson said.

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Amundson said the long-term goal is to create a model where families, businesses and the state all contribute to childcare costs.

“We think it will be a better idea for possible government funding in the future. So the real goal is to have a system that balances the responsibility of the nurse with the responsibility of the employer and the state,” she said.

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Aptiv, a disability support organization and services in La Crosse, is one of the employers who received a grant. CEO Jenny Felty said the funding will allow them to cover childcare costs for 20 of their employees, some of which they expect will come from the multiple vacancies they are currently working to fill. She said the grant will cover 75 percent of the cost, while Aptiv will cover the remaining 25 percent.

“Caring jobs in general are very difficult to hire right now, so we’re looking at incentives that could give us an edge to bring staff here to do this really necessary and important work,” Felty said. “Paying someone’s entire child care bill is just an incredible achievement for which the staff who receive it are so grateful because it takes a huge burden off their shoulders.”

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Jared Hickey is the Corporate Childcare Advocate for The Parenting Place, a La Crosse nonprofit that supports childcare workers and families. He works to connect area employers like Aptiv with childcare providers.

Hickey said an Aptiv employee who receives free childcare told him they plan to use the money saved for “food, clothing and savings for[their child’s]college fund.” He said a childcare worker benefiting from one of the grants reported he could increase wages for his teachers, something he hopes will help his own company hire new staff and increase the number of children that they can record.

“For me, Partner Up! an example of how businesses, families with young children and the child care industry can benefit from new innovative investments and how we can advance child care in the state,” said Hickey.

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