Minnesota Great Start for All – Home Visits & Babies in School – Slated for Omnibus; HF 1 Rises as Possible Childcare Fraud Bill

Minnesota House of Representatives

Minnesota Great Start for All – Home Visits & Babies in School – Slated for Omnibus; HF 1 Rises as Possible Childcare Fraud Bill

By: Linda Bell

The Minnesota House Early Education Committee heard House File 1, an act titled the “Great Start for All Minnesota Children Act,” on Thursday, March 7th.  The Act includes Article 1: Prenatal Care and Utilization; Article 2: Home Visits for pregnant mothers and mothers with young children; Article 3: Great Start Fund establishes permanent treasury fund for the purpose of funding babies, birth to 5’s presence in the schools and head starts; and Article 4: Early Learning including the CCAP and Child Care Block grant.  In the end, Chair Pinto stated that HF 1 would be laid over for possible inclusion into the Omnibus Bill.

Whereas, you may have heard that the original bill was 8 pages long, the new replacement is now 25 pages.  The bill’s chief author, Rep. Kotyza-Witthuhn, spent 11 short minutes explaining walking us through Article 3 including the Great Start Fund.  Birth to 3 in the schools was moved to Article 4 under the title, Birth to 5, Family Eligibility.

The hearing was divided into three sections: bill summary, bill testimony and legislative discussion. Once Rep. Kotyza-Witthuhn concluded her overview, Chair Pinto called for the bill’s “preferred testifiers” which honestly set the mood for the rest of the session. The Early Ed committee has a decidedly different feel this year.

A number of testifiers spoke on behalf of the bill, relating positive experiences with childcare assistance, school community centers and their ability to work.  Testifiers were given extended periods of time to share their personal stories and were very well received by everyone in the room.

However, the next four received strict time limits and were not well-received by the chair.  Part of the dilemma here is that the chair and bill author had purposely chosen to focus on childcare assistance for low-income individuals, and while important, did not mention the expansive funding and appropriations laid out in the original bill which was 400% of the federal income poverty level, equating to annual income of $100,400.00 for a family of 4.  Again, this program affords  daycare up into the upper-middle class.  However, the new HF 1 appropriations were removed, left blank and will not be known until later in the session.  Will appropriations stay at the same levels as the old bill at 400% of federal income poverty level, will they decrease or increase?  These next testifiers had read both bills.

First, Linda Bell questioned the Great Start Fund in light of our present childcare fraud.  The fund would be secured via allotments, transfers, donations, and other funding which lacked administrative specifics including the total expected appropriations to fund.  She asked who would be in charge of this fund: an agency, a mix of agencies and if the fund would be audited. She offered an amendment for transparency, “An annual audit will be conducted and report sent to the legislature.” She also, offered an amendment regarding a rather loose statement on financial reports, “An annual financial statement is required by law to be submitted to the legislature and will be made readily available to the public.” Lastly, Linda spoke about the importance of families in the lives of babies and young children as well as society as a whole and the detrimental effects HF 1 would have on the family. Linda’s testimony was cut off by Chair Pinto at that point.

Secondly, Elizabeth Bangert testified.  You may have heard of Elizabeth whose alias is the “Minnesota Citizen Lobbyist” and spends many days at the Capitol in defense of her child care business. Due to distracted committee members who were on phones, in side conversations and laughing, Elizabeth became frustrated and was moved to tears. Elizabeth addressed a number of different issues. First, she stated that the “system is rigged” and that big chain childcare centers who have records of maltreatment never lost their Parent Aware 4-star rating while home-based or small centers did. She stated, “This is a turf war.  You have people who want [state] money in the schools and people who want money in the giant chain centers. And that’s why no one cares about us in the middle.” Additionally, Elizabeth declared that the Child Care Block grant was changed in 2014 to remove exemptions for vaccines.”  [MACC has consistently stated that when parents and/or children enter into school programs that originate from federal grants, there will be strings or tentacles.  Loss of exemptions (loss of parental rights) is one right there!  How many other regulations are found in these grants but not specifically stated in the bill?]

Caleb Stromquist traveled all the way from the northern border of Minnesota (5 to 6 hours one way) to speak about educational and health freedoms and parental rights.  Caleb also testified for HF 1226, home visit portion, a few weeks ago.

Lastly, Sandi Hayner testified about the government grants regarding babies/toddlers in schools including home visits. She questioned when a difference of opinion arises, will parents be “in the driver’s seat.” Continuing she asked whose values will be respected, the parents or the governments? She spoke of a family situation relating to a child where the school team diagnosed her daughter with a permanent condition without offering much help to work through the issue.  Sandi sought help outside the system leading to a successful outcome. She mentioned the childcare fraud and encouraged the committee to wait until after the March 13th Report from the Legislative Auditor’s office before passing HF 1. Lastly, she implored the chair to make sure that acceptance of assistance monies would not equate to quasi parent-shared custody with the state. Chair Pinto tried to cut her off in the midst of testimony.

Childcare / Daycare fraud conversation was brought forth near the end of the legislative discussion and question section.  Rep Joshua Heintzeman asked a series of questions regarding daycare fraud and why certain language seemingly promoted fraud.  It’s quite technical but in the end, Article 3 and Article 2 are bringing Minnesota into conformity with federal regulations.

All in all, there is expansive funding in HF 1.  HF 1 funding is for Minnesota mothers and babies, home visits and babies in school programs and/or  massive funding that expands childcare fraud.  Likely it is both! According to whistleblower Scott Stillman, child care fraud is happening in two distinct ways.  One, daycare centers were receiving grant monies where no children were enrolled nor benefitted care, and two, individuals at high levels in Minnesota government, including the legislature, are receiving fraudulent funds for their own personal gain.  Under these circumstances, it is the opinion of MACC, that HF 1 should include no more than a “cost of living” increase until the childcare fraud situation is settled. The people of Minnesota are funding these assistance programs in good faith and we deserve the truth!

Read the bill here:  HF 1 HOOO1 delete all

Watch the hearing video here.

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