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Northwest Minnesota Foundation, Greater Bemidji receive DEED funding to address child care shortages

Two local organizations, Greater Bemidji and the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, have received funds from the state to go towards addressing the shortage of affordable child care in the area.

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BEMIDJI —- Two local organizations, Greater Bemidji and the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, were recently awarded state grants that aim to increase the supply of affordable child care both in the region and across the state.

As a part of the Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Child Care Economic Development Grants, Greater Bemidji has been awarded $200,000 toward its efforts to address Bemidji’s child care shortage and NMF will receive $50,000.

“We’re excited to have been approved for additional funding,” said Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji. “We’ve been trying a whole bunch of things at Greater Bemidji to try and create child care slots so people can go back to work.”

Hengel explained that like much of the state, the Bemidji area has a drastic shortage of available child care, with research showing that between 800 and 1,000 slots would need to be created to fully address the need.

Greater Bemidji has been working to improve the situation by assisting at-home providers and daycares at St. Philip’s and First Lutheran Church. This latest funding will go toward a new project that hopes to bring employers into the solution.

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“The latest effort will actually be a pilot program. We’re going to try and bring a collaboration of employers together to support the development of a new center in Bemidji,” Hengel explained.

If the proposed plan works out, the center will create an additional 53 child care slots that would be available for the employees of the involved businesses.

The funding going toward the Northwest Minnesota Foundation will support their forgivable and low-interest loan programs that work to provide financial assistance to child care providers starting or expanding their businesses.

“We have a really great program that we started in 2018 made up of both forgivable and low-interest loans,” explained Tabi Steinmetz, a program officer with NMF. “We wanted to develop a way to address the shortage of providers, but we also wanted to encourage providers to increase their quality of care.”

The current DEED grant will allow NMF to provide nine $5,000 loans to new child care providers and those who are looking to increase their capacity.

“NMF wanted to offer a financing product that could help a new provider address some of those upfront costs and we thought a forgivable loan would be a really great way to do that,” Steinmetz shared. “It encourages the child care provider to stay in business for the term of the loan and it helps increase the quality of care.”

Since the program started, NMF has closed 78 forgivable loans to providers throughout the region, totaling $375,000. Anyone interested in learning more about NMF’s program can visit their website for more information.

Greater Bemidji and the Northwest Minnesota Foundation are just two of 17 organizations across the state to receive funding through this round of grants. More information and a funding map can be found on the Child Care Economic Development Grants page of DEED’s website.

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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