By Jason Ehlert, state president, North Dakota Building Trades Unions

With the upcoming special session, the Legislature and governor must consider assisting working families with wrap-around benefits to fully address the workforce availability problem. With additional funds coming from the federal government from the pandemic, we need to think strategically about making the most of these dollars to truly help families facing the challenge of affordable child care. From the recent report of Kids Count North Dakota, in 2020, families on average paid between $7,600 to $9,500 for child-care services. To put that in different terms, that is around the same amount for in-state tuition at North Dakota State University or the University of North Dakota.

Although the Building Trades Unions represent construction, affordable, quality child care would produce workforce availability across all industries. Health care, manufacturing, mining, agriculture, IT, construction, whatever industry comes to mind, I have yet to figure out one that would not benefit from having this issue addressed.

I understand there may be a reluctance to expand the state government’s role in providing child care to its citizens, but how many private businesses have $76 million available, and possibly more, to address such a widespread, persistent issue? Additionally, if not addressed, will continue to be a barrier to employment for every industry in the state.

This is a top priority, with both business and labor agreeing this is a major issue. Let’s finally put forth a tangible, workforce availability solution that will be a betterment to working families while benefiting businesses at the same time. Let’s fund affordable, quality child care for all North Dakotans.

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Ehlert resides in Mandan, N.D.