Employers were sought Monday to add a potential benefit child care assistance for employees during an informational meeting at Lakeshore Resource Network.

Roughly 30 business and public sector leaders were at the meeting hosted by United Way of Mason County and the Pennies From Heaven Foundation, either in-person or via teleconferencing on Zoom. The meeting was to explain what the MI Tri-Share Child Care Program is, how it works and how it could help employers hire and retain employees.

John Wilson, CEO of Western Land Services and Pennies From Heaven Foundation chair, said he learned quite a bit about child care when assisting in starting up Oak Tree Academy in the former South Hamlin Elementary School. After having financial losses, Gilden Woods is now managing the academy.

“It has highlighted for me how very difficult it is for a community to address the issue of child care. The level of expertise and management oversight to just break even is mind-boggling. It makes managing my businesses look like a piece of cake,” Wilson said.

Jeanette Hoyer, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of West Michigan, presented the idea of the program. Her organization is running the pilot program that began in Muskegon County, and it was allowed to expand it out to the counties that it serves, including Mason.

The program splits the costs of child care three ways between the state, the employer and the employee. Employees are eligible based on household size and gross monthly income of the household. Employers would post information about the program, and the employee would then, in turn, be eventually referred to Goodwill to complete the application process. Employers need to be headquartered within the six counties Goodwill serves, but the employee could live anywhere.

Hoyer said one of the first employees to utilize the program is one in Mason County.

“One of our very first employees to take advantage of this opportunity was an employee of Wesco at (one of) Ludington’s Wesco (locations),” Hoyer said. “As we were coming in, Catrina (Rule, the MI Tri-Share Child Care Manager) said, ‘Oh yeah, her child care provider is right down that street.’ One of the first places we started providing it was right here in Ludington.”

Hoyer recognized that child care can look different for different families. It could mean needing infant or toddler care. It could mean either all-day care or after-school care. And it could be at a child care center or in a home-based provider. Those varied examples are covered in the pilot program.

Concerns were expressed about the limited number of licensed child care providers in the county, especially for those employees who may work a second shift. Wilson believed that if the funding is there, the number of providers and slots available will increase in turn. Getting a measure of demand for those instances will be something to be determined.

“As we bring more money into the field, absolutely (there will be more providers),” he said.

Another concern raised was determining which employees could receive the benefit. Hoyer said some employers already enrolled in the pilot program used a lottery system to determine which employees received the benefit. Goodwill Industries itself is in the program, and it used a lottery system to determine which employees would receive the benefit.

Hoyer said it was up to the employers to determine eligibility of their employees for the benefit beyond the parameters set by the pilot program for family size and gross monthly income.

Child care providers bill Goodwill for the service, and Goodwill, in turn, collects the funds from the state, employers and employees. Employers would pay their respective third of the cost plus an 8% administrative fee. Employees would have their contribution deducted from their paycheck. Hoyer said the deduction for Goodwill employees is done after taxes.

Wilson said the goal of Monday’s meeting was to determine the potential demand for slots through the program, and Hoyer said Goodwill was ready to help provide communications between employers and employees as well as a memorandum of understanding to get employers into the MI Tri-Share Child Care program.

Wilson said adding the program is something that could move Mason County toward being a “community of choice” with four key components taken care of — affordable housing, child care, transportation and education.

“The county commissioners can’t solve all those problems. The City of Ludington can’t solve all those problems. United Way can’t solve all those problems. Pennies From Heaven can’t solve all those problems. But all of us working together can,” he said.

The Managing Editor for the Ludington Daily News since June 2018 and on the staff since Oct. 2011, taking over for legendary Lloyd Wallace. Previously with The Chippewa Herald in Chippewa Falls, Wis., and the Tuscola County Advertiser in Caro.

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