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Where grant dollars haven't reached, some in-home day care providers threatened with closing (copy)

In-home day care providers across the state have responded to the call to care for children of essential workers, but local providers say long-running day care businesses could soon collapse without support.

While business has maintained its regular tempo for some, other providers say they’ve been left without a way to recoup the income losses they’ve seen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In keeping their doors open for the few families who still depend on the care, some providers said this month they’ve fallen through the cracks of both unemployment benefits and the state’s emergency grant even as they continue to provide care for families.

In April, the state began accepting applications for Peacetime Emergency Child Care Grants, which are being allocated in three rounds. The grants are intended to ensure child care is available for critical sector workers during the state’s COVID-19 emergency response, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Approximately $9.75 million in grant money was allocated in the first round, but most cities in the southwest metro didn’t have any providers on the receiving end.

In Scott and Carver counties, 57 grants were distributed in Shakopee and nine were awarded in Waconia. All other communities within the two counties were left off the map.

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s PlayWorks in Prior Lake also received a grant, but tribal grants are counted separately.

Between the two counties, which are combined into one economic region, 231 applicants were denied, but it’s unclear exactly where the denied applicants are located. The human service’s department said Friday only regional applicant data had been prepared.

‘Broken’ process

Stacy Brule, a home day care provider in Jordan for 20 years, said she’s been denied the state’s Peacetime Emergency Child Care Grants twice.

“I’m very concerned about the business,” she said. “I don’t have good feelings about it.”

Tabytha Luikens, president of the Scott County Licensed Family Child Care Association, said the grant distribution furthers existing inequities between providers in the metro and providers in rural areas.

“The grant process in Minnesota has been broken for many years,” she said.

According to scoring rubrics provided by DHS, the number of hospital beds and critical facilities in an applicant’s town translate into points.

Shakopee — home to a regional medical center, the county jail and a prison — boasts a high number of point-scoring operations. Ridgeview Medical Center is located in Waconia.

However, providers in more rural areas are likely facing greater challenges during the pandemic, Luikens said. A lower population density means less business opportunity, and rural providers generally charge less for their services.

Brule went from 11 children in her care to six since the pandemic hit. The financial strain led her to stop contributing to her retirement account and take a second job.

Despite significant income loss, day care providers are unable to collect unemployment insurance if they work more than 32 hours a week. Being ineligible for unemployment insurance also means they’re unable to receive federal support through The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, And Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“Because of the 32 hour requirement, we are just kicked out,” Luikens said.

Amber Angell, whose mother runs an in-home day care in Prior Lake, reached out to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development for help after her mother’s business dropped from 11 children to three.

“I know that is super hard and we do not necessarily like or agree with everything that was done to create these programs either,” DEED wrote in a message to Angell reviewed by Southwest News Media.

“Everything is just backwards and it’s super frustrating,” Angell said. “They are going to lose their business if something doesn’t get done about it.”

The emergency grant program should support providers who fall through the cracks of unemployment, Luikens said, but it’s scoring method prevents the money from reaching those who need it most.

“Why would it not be dependent on how many kids you still have in care, and more importantly how many you’ve lost?”

After being denied grants in the first two rounds, Brule said she isn’t hopeful the third round will play out any differently for her, partly because some recipients apply in all three rounds.

The state hasn’t yet released data on the second round of grants, but Brule said many providers received a grant in both rounds.

In-home day care providers are allocated $4,500-$5,500 per grant.

“If I could have even a quarter of that just to help with bills...” Brule sighed.

“It’s so incredibly inequitable,” Luikens said.

Scoring rubrics

In-home providers face another challenge securing grants because their competition also includes corporately-run day care centers.

In Scott and Carver counties, $282,500 was allocated to in-home, self-employed providers and $214,500 was allocated to child care centers.

Side-by-side, the applicant scoring rubrics for the first and second round were almost identical.

A new scoring item added to the second round deducts up to two points off an applicant’s score if they’ve already received grants, loans or other emergency funds. However, the reduction only applies if an applicant received $50,000 or more.

On the rubric, the measure is titled “financial risk.”

The second round also offered one point to providers in counties bordering greater Minnesota counties with large hospitals and critical facilities.

Hospital capacity by city, the number of critical facilities by city, and proximity to hospitals and critical facilities carried up to four points each in both rounds.

Providing care in a city with an identified child care shortage carried one point, but up to four points were available based-on the percentage of essential workers’ families living within the entire county.

Providers caring for children with special needs, offering non-standard hours or serving children whose first language is not English could earn one point for each.

Up to four points could be earned if fewer applications were received from the applicant’s city.

“The purpose of these grants is to respond to emergencies, so the distribution of grants could shift depending on needs and response to the pandemic,” DHS wrote in an email. “Applicants who apply and receive a grant one month will be eligible and required to apply to receive the grant for another month. Applicants who apply and don’t receive an award in one month may reapply to receive a grant in a succeeding month.”

Brule recently took a second job with a caregiving company to supplement her income. She cares for children during the day, and helps her adult clients in the evenings.

She sometimes works over 14 hours in one day.

“I’m trying to hang in there as long as possible.”

‘These kids need normalcy’

Whether it’s caring for a few children or a full house, local in-home day care providers say the COVID-19 pandemic brings a new sense of urgency and meaning to their mission.

“My purpose is to keep those kids stable and healthy mentally, not just physically,” Luikens, a provider in Savage for 21 years, said.

These days, she’s caring for around five to nine children, but some days she cares for as many as 12.

“I have really supportive families,” Luikens said. “They’ve been here for me and I’m praying that I’ve been here for them.”

Chanhassen resident Laurie Kerveliet said her day care business, Just Like Home, is also as busy as ever.

This summer she expects to see more school-aged children as summer programming and camps are canceled.

Day care, maybe now more than ever, is an important source of stability for children in a changing world, providers say.

“These kids need normalcy,” Kerveliet said. “Most of the kids I care for have been with me since they were six weeks old or 12 weeks old.”

Even the youngest children are impacted by the crisis.

“Kids are so intuitive, they can feel that tension,” she said. “If the kids go to the grocery store with their parents they see all these people in masks — everything in their whole world is different.”

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Cities weigh in as MPCA narrows options for Burnsville landfill clean-up

Six million cubic yards of waste kept underground at two inactive landfills in Burnsville present a situation that state pollution studies indicate is both precarious and predictable.

Without a composite liner underneath the waste, only dirt and rock separate the trash from Savage and Burnsville’s drinking water supply; however, the landfill’s geological relationship to a neighboring mining operation acts to temporarily prevent water contamination.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency predicts groundwater levels will rise and saturate the waste at the Freeway Landfill and Freeway Dump, located respectively on the west and east side of the Interstate 35-W bridge in Burnsville, when mining operations eventually cease.

MPCA and local officials say a clean-up, proposed to take place in one of two ways, is needed before the waste and water interact.

In a dig-and-haul scenario, the waste would be excavated and dumped at an operating landfill. In a dig-and-line scenario, the waste would be excavated and then laid to rest on-site with an engineered liner underneath. While the MPCA pursues public feedback on dig-and-line designs, local city and county officials are calling for the agency to scrap the concept entirely in favor of a dig-and-haul solution drawn-up by private businesses.

Dan Schleck, an attorney representing the landfill owners, said his clients also support the private dig-and-haul solution.

‘Gateway to Burnsville’ vision

Burnsville city officials’ hope for the landfill clean-up relies on the help of Kraemer Mining and Minerals, a private quarry operation located just south of the Freeway Landfill.

The end result, dubbed the “Gateway to Burnsville,” would be a massive redevelopment project of parks, businesses and residences along the Minnesota River with a 100-foot-deep quarry lake at the center.

Photo courtesy of Kraemer Mining and Minerals 

Renderings drawn on behalf of Kraemer Mining and Minerals limestone quarry in Burnsville hope the site’s future lake will be at the center of one of the largest development projects in the metro. The future plans for the area remain decades away, but state and local officials hope the clean-up of surrounding landfills is in the immediate future. However, the proposal’s renderings do not depict the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill’s proposed size increase to the west of the lake.

In October 2019, local elected officials and other interested parties crowded a board room at Kraemer’s offices for a presentation on how the plan would unfold.

Kraemer’s Vice President and Chief Operating Officer John Rivisto, said Kraemer could use its private road to haul the waste excavated from Freeway Landfill over to the nearby Burnsville Sanitary Landfill, located just southwest of the quarry. They’ll also dig up and haul the waste at Freeway Dump on the other side of Interstate 35.

Once the waste is gone, Kraemer would mine the bedrock underneath the waste — eliminating the possibility of leftover contaminates, unearthing valuable limestone and keeping the business running longer.

Kraemer’s plan to haul the waste would cost around the same as the state’s dig-and-line option, Rivisto told the Savage Pacer last year. The MPCA estimate’s the dig-and-line scenarios to close between $102-$117 million.

This particular dig-and-haul option would be cheaper because Kraemer could haul the waste in large trucks on private roads versus someone else needing to haul the waste in freeway-compliant trucks on public roads.

Schleck, the landfill owner’s attorney, said his clients also support moving forward with this plan, but some question whether the MPCA is interested.

“We would like the MCPA to designate this as a dig-and-haul project to be completed by the three private parties,” Schleck said.

“There’s so many positives that can occur if our regulating agency would just relax a little bit,” Dakota County Commissioner Liz Workman said. “I’m not saying relax the rules, but if there’s a different solution that’s not in your book can you at least take a look at it.”

MPCA Assistant Commissioner Kirk Koudelka said the private parties involved in this scenario will have an equal opportunity to bid on the project. While the MPCA will regulate any type of clean-up to ensure it meets standards, there’s also programs available if the parties wanted to fund the clean-up themselves, he said.

“Our goal is to clean up the landfill and protect human health and the environment, whether that’s under the current ownership or some other mechanism.”

Looking to expand While two landfills might disappear under this plan, the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill would likely become much larger.

In March 2019, the Burnsville City Council approved a concept plan to increase the waste capacity at the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill by 26 million cubic yards.

City leaders and officials with Waste Management have said the size increase could give the Freeway waste somewhere to go, but the expansion request is roughly 20 million cubic yards more than the volume of waste at the Freeway sites.

At several public meetings last year, residents criticized the proposed size increase for its lasting visual impact on the Minnesota River Valley and long-term environmental concerns.

Some residents also said they worried the increase would be allowed with no promise of Waste Management ultimately being involved with the clean-up of the Freeway sites.

Criticism for dig-and-line

The MPCA shared three variations of the dig-and-line solution, which it is looking to narrow down to one final design with the intake of public comment ending in June 12. There’s a design to create the flattest landfill with the biggest footprint, the tallest landfill with the smallest footprint or something in-between.

The tallest option would be about 90 feet shy of Buck Hill in height, but the flattest option leaves the least amount of land for redevelopment, according to the MPCA.

The Burnsville City Council declined to give the agency a preference between the three dig-and-line options because members said all three would rob Burnsville of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of developable land.

Keeping the waste on-site “in any way, shape or form is utterly, absolutely, 100% unacceptable,” Councilmember Cara Schultz toldKoudelka during a City Council meeting this month.

“Instead of a big, beautiful, billion-dollar development, we are going to have a big, beautiful, green hill coming into Burnsville,” Councilmember Dan Kealy said before delivering his rejection of the plans: “And for that reason, I’m out.”

The Savage City Council also hasn’t weighed-in on the dig-and-line options, but members haven’t publicly expressed support for the dig-and-haul either.

“We do not have a position on its height or how it looks,” Emily Gunderson, the city’s communications manager, said in an email.

Bloomington city officials also favor the dig-and-haul solution, but they don’t want to see the waste taken to the nearby Burnsville Sanitary Landfill, partly because of a liner’s limited lifespan, which is estimated to be between 50 and 400 years.

“Clearly, a landfill should never have been constructed in such a location,” Bloomington Mayor Tim Busse wrote the MPCA in a May 19 letter. “A new landfill, expanded landfill or replacement landfill should never again be allowed in such a location. Minnesota laws should be amended to ensure that does not happen.”

“The waste needs to be moved to a location that is away from municipal water supplies, wetlands, floodplains, rivers and residential uses,” Busse wrote, pointing to the liner’s estimated lifespan. “The MPCA should rule out other landfills in sensitive environmental locations, such as the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill, as potential locations for the relocated waste.”