New law investing in lowering childcare costs for Montana families

Jul 03, 2023

Joee Taylor, Senior Reporter Jun 29, 2023 Updated Jun 29, 2023

HELENA, Mont. - House Bill 648 was introduced by representative Alice Buckley (D - Bozeman) with bipartisan support this past legislative session. 

It's providing critical and historic state investment in childcare and goes into effect on July 1, 2023. 

It's making 3 changes to the Best Beginnings scholarship program; the Best Beginnings Scholarship Program has been helping families across the Treasure State for 30 years but according to the Montana Advocates for Children, in recent years it hasn't been addressing the rising cost and lack of care. 

"We really knew that child care in Montana was at a tipping point. We were really facing a crisis," said Representative SJ Howell (D - Missoula). 

The new law will cap co-pays at 9% of a family's income; adjust the way providers are reimbursed to add stability for both parents and providers; as well as expand eligibility to 185% of the federal poverty level. 

"This bill does better for the folks in our communities, struggling with challenges some of us will never know. It does better for parents wanting to be in the workforce... HB 648 helps us do better by Montana families, and it helps my business and my childcare stay open," said Jen Gurskey, executive Director at the Helena YWCA. 

In a press release from the Montana Advocates for Children, they said there is more work to be done to address the availability and cost of childcare in the state but this bill will go a long way in helping families most in need. 

"My daycare facility has been serving Best Beginnings kids for 16 years, since we opened in 2007," says Sheryl Hutzenbiler, owner of Munchkin Land Daycare in Billings. "I have seen the struggle families have had to afford quality child care over time, the passing of HB 648 will not only help my current enrollment and more families across our state, but will provide sustainability for providers serving all of Montana's children." (From the press release from Montana Advocates for Children)

Today during a press conference help by the Montana Democrats celebrating the new bill coming to law, Valerie Knowlton, a Helena mom shared some of her struggles in affording childcare and how this bill impacts her. 

"I applied for best beginnings in 2021 when my husband and I were both working full time and needed care for our two youngest children. We were already having a difficult time finding a facility that could provide care for both of them, and we had to end up settling for part time care... We had to readjust our schedules and sometimes that meant not working the hours that we should have been working. We were able to figure things out until our five year old started kindergarten. The facility that we were using was able to get our youngest child into full time care. However, the hours still didn't cover our work hours but it was an improvement... Eventually our payment grew so high that it was more expensive just to pay for the co-pay than it was paying directly for care. As a low income family already struggling to make ends meet with older kids in public schools, we were facing an impossible set of decisions because of this," said Knowlton. 

She went on to say they actually ended up withdrawing from the program like many other families, continuing to say that HB 648 is a big step and we have to do better for our kids and our communities. 

"This law will make such a difference for parents and families like mine, who just need a little bit of extra help," said Knowlton.

"The passage of HB 648 is a historic moment in investing state dollars to improve child care in Montana," said Heather O'Loughlin, Director of MAC member organization Montana Budget and Policy Center. "We estimate that HB 648 will expand Best Beginnings to an additional 1,500 children and support families of more than 3,000 children currently on the program with lower co-pays. This is a solid step in the right direction for our child care landscape and our economy." (From the press release from Montana Advocates for Children)

To read House Bill 648 in its entirety, click here. 

Montana Budget & Policy Center

Shaping policy for a stronger Montana.

MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.