Manitoba accused of ‘sleight of hand’ on child-care fees – Winnipeg Free Press

Child care advocates say the Manitoba government has not kept its promise of a 50 per cent reduction in fees by the end of this year.

There was much fanfare in August 2021 when Manitoba signed a federal-provincial agreement that would provide parents across the country with regulated childcare averaging $10 a day by 2025-2026.

“The price of child care in Manitoba has not changed,” said Susan Prentice, a University of Manitoba professor and member of the Child Care Coalition of Manitoba, which is calling on the province to keep its promise.

There was much fanfare in August 2021 when Manitoba signed a federal-provincial agreement that would provide parents across the country with regulated childcare averaging $10 a day by 2025-2026. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“Even under the Canada-wide plan, the child care fees today are the same as they were nine years ago: $20.80 a day for preschool, $30 a day for infants in a not-for-profit facility,” said Jodie Kehl. , executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association.

Instead of reducing fees, Manitoba chose to index an “outdated” subsidy scale, she said.

Manitoba is the only province trying to achieve $10-a-day care by relying on fee subsidies, Prentice said.

“It’s a huge set of administrative burdens, all much more complicated than changing the price,” Prentice said.

A parent who receives a subsidy must justify why they need the subsidy, is always at risk of losing it, and must go through “a lot of hoops and red tape to prove that they are eligible, and that they are still eligible.” said the professor.

“It also requires a lot of red tape at the facility level, which has to report specific data every four weeks about the number of subsidized parents, and whether the kids were there, and if they missed any time,” Prentice said. “Then it takes a bureaucracy to manage it.”

Other provinces — such as Alberta, BC and Ontario — have lowered fees, she said.

Alberta lowered the price to a flat fee of $25 a day which she says is still high but a big reduction for that province.

“Over 12,000 parents in BC pay just $10 a day,” Prentice said. “In Ontario, a number of facilities have signed up to the program, which will soon see them offering $10 a day.”

Manitoba is the only province that has not changed its fee and is “solely trying to argue that the subsidy system is an adequate alternative to changing the price,” said Prentice, who called it a “sleight of hand.”

Manitoba kept the fees the same, but made more parents eligible for a subsidy, meaning the average amount paid by parents in the province decreased.

“It’s like the average out-of-pocket cost for everyone has gone down, but the price of child care hasn’t changed, and Manitoba isn’t announcing that it will reduce the fee for everyone and it has no plans to reduce the actual cost of $10-a-day childcare for our province,” she said.

Kehl, whose association did not endorse the media event at the Legislature, said that out-of-pocket expenses have dropped for some families, but that is not the same as a fee reduction.

She explained that childcare providers received a subsidy advance and was asked to encourage all families to apply for the subsidy.

“Unfortunately, this does not support a fair-for-all system,” Kehl said. There is a “huge amount of red tape for families to apply.”

Providing a subsidy rather than reducing fees puts much of the administrative burden on families and can be a “very intrusive, stigmatizing process,” she said.

“Not all facilities told families to apply, so not all families benefited across the province,” Kehl said.

This resulted in numerous problems, she said.

Recently, one center told parents it must use the remainder of its federal subsidy to reduce fees for families who qualify for the subsidy by Jan. 30, or it will lose it. It was providing credits for fees they paid dating back to September.

“Why are we waiving all the fees at once instead of reducing fees to $10 a day over time?” the social media post asked.

Early Childhood Learning Minister Wayne Ewasko was not available for an interview on Tuesday. In a prepared statement, he said Manitoba raised the income threshold for subsidies this year to ensure those with lower incomes benefit as quickly as possible.

“The goal is to reduce fees for all parents to an average of $10 a day … We continue to work with our sector and federal government on innovative ways to lower parents’ fees.”

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislative reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people who call Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislative bureau in early 2020.

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