The Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation will use state grant dollars to work with communities on a pressing need: child care.

The foundation is one of six in the state that will receive up to $75,000 annually for two years to address the desperate need. Since 2012, the state has had a net decline of 18 percent in child care providers.

“We know families are facing big challenges finding quality child care right now, especially in rural Minnesota,” Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey said in a Jan. 17 news release. “We need to help communities find the solutions that will address this need, and we see this partnership with the Minnesota Initiative Foundations as an important part of the solution.”

An analysis by First Children’s Finance showed the region served by SMIF has a potential need of more than 8,500 child care slots. Waseca County has above-average needs in the region the foundation covers, with nearly 500 slots needed. And Waseca’s ZIP code is No. 4 in need, with 370, behind Austin, Mankato and Rochester.

The foundations will receive a total of $900,000 in state grants, which they will combine with $600,000 of support from private and community donations.

Teri Steckelberg, child care director for SMIF, said the local match includes foundation staff time and meeting space.

Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, based in Owatonna, covers a 20-county region across the southern portion of the state. They offered a community grant program to help find the best solution for local needs. The application period closed Tuesday.

The foundation will select five communities to work with on developing a solution and, at the end of the process, offer up to $10,000 for projects identified, Steckelberg said in an email.

“Many communities automatically go to the solution of building a child care center,” she said. “We are trying to get away from that as a solution especially in smaller communities. Often it is just not feasible for a small community to be able to sustain a child care center, therefore, we would be looking at other solutions that best meet the needs of the community and the shortage they are experiencing.”

Some communities may need to start from square one, by discussing the issue and walking through a process to identify the needs and “right-sized solutions,” she said.

“Some communities have been meeting about this issue for a while and are much further along in the process — some of them have already identified solutions,” Steckelberg said. “They would be readier for the implementation dollars.”

Reach Associate Editor Nancy Madsen at 507-931-8568 or follow her on Twitter.com @SPHnancy.

Nancy Madsen has written for newspapers in Watertown, N.Y., and Mankato, as well as for PolitiFact Virginia at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va. Nancy is a graduate of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., and Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y.

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