Burgum unveils plan for ND's child care 'crisis'

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota would spend up to $80 million in state savings over the next two years to address child care in the state, under a proposal pitched Tuesday by Gov. Doug Burgum.

The GOP-led Legislature meets again in January and will consider the plan that also includes a child care tax credit for low- to middle-income families, expansion of child care assistance and matching money for businesses that offer their employees child care.

The second-term Republican governor said the lack of available and affordable child care for families contributes to workforce shortages that have hamstrung the state’s economy. Adequate and affordable child care helps attract and retain companies in the state, he said.

North Dakota has “tens of thousands” of unfilled jobs, and many families “have to make a choice to work and pay for child care or not work at all,” Burgum said.

North Dakota has more than 64,000 children under the age of 5 in some 45,000 households across the state, Burgum said.

The state’s more than 800 licensed child care providers employ more than 6,000 people, he said.

“In spite of that … working families are experiencing a child care crisis,” Burgum said. “There are more children than there are slots.”

Burgum pitched the proposal, which is still in draft form, at a press conference in Fargo, where he was flanked by several supportive — and mostly GOP — lawmakers, business leaders and others from across the state.

Democratic lawmakers expressed support for the proposal in a statement but said more may be needed. They also blamed the current “crisis” on the GOP, which wields supermajority control in the Legislature.

“As long-time champions for making child care more accessible and affordable in North Dakota, we support these proposals, and we believe they don’t go far enough because of the scale of the crisis,” Fargo Democratic Sen. Kathy Hogan said. Democrats “have proposed several bills to improve child care over the years, but unfortunately Republicans in power did not act to prevent today’s crisis.”

The oil-rich state’s financial reserves are flush with cash and far ahead of forecasts due to strong oil prices, steady production and an influx of federal coronavirus relief funds.

That bodes well for addressing the child care issue, the governor said.

“Across the board, we’ve never been in better financial shape,” Burgum said.