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Lancaster’s changing childcare landscape
Evers visits closing daycare to press legislature to act Giggles & Wiggles slated to close at end of August, has been serving families of 32 children
Giggles and Wiggles
Kristin Holman-Steffel, owner of Giggles & Wiggles Daycare, talks with Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers in front of the daycare last Thursday. The childcare facility, which grew out of Holman-Steffel’s home 26 years ago to become the second largest daycare in Lancaster, will close at the end of the month,m citing the inability to find staffing to maintain care over 32 children.

In the last few weeks, Gov. Tony Evers has visited numerous childcare facilities across the state in a push to drum up support for his special session next month to ask the State Legislature to deal with the childcare crisis in Wisconsin.

On Thursday in Lancaster, he hoped that some action would prevent others to take the route Giggles & Wiggles has, which is to close its doors due to a lack of staffing.

“When I have a provider say they will go out of business,” Evers said of what he has heard visiting other providers, he knows that will directly impact the state’s economy, as each child sent home from a closing daycare facility means a parent going home to care for them, and having to give up or change jobs to compensate.

Earlier this month, the 26-year-old daycare announced it was closing at the end of August, citing the inability to find workers to stay open.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Kristin Holman-Steffel, owner of Giggles & Wiggles, told Evers during his visit. Holman-Steffel gave a tour to the governor of the facility, which had gone from being a daycare in the downstairs of her family home, converted years ago into childcare that had taken over the entire house.

Meeting the children, parents and employees of the daycare, Evers heard the love they had for the place, and the scramble they felt as they looked for where they will go next.

For Mary Sarah Botsford, she is thrusted into both those roles, as not only has she been an employee at Giggles & Wiggles, but it is also where she was bringing her youngest, Forrest.

“It makes my heart happy because I am helping build the new future,” Botsford said about getting into childcare after having a career in the healthcare field.

When working in healthcare and raising her older children, she noted that it was a real tightrope on balancing her job’s needs and her children. Then, with her shift from 5:45 a.m. until 2 p.m., that meant having a job flexible enough she could leave for the start of her children’s day.

“I had to run home, get them ready for school, then run back to work - there really wasn’t any other option there,” Botsford told the governor.

Things got complicated when she had to deal with mandatory overtime from time-to-time. “I would have to call one of my sisters, they were my support system,” she said, noting how fortunate she was to have family close-by.

“What if you don’t have family around?” Botsford pondered.

Now she contemplates returning to the healthcare field, but she is concerned about finding daycare for Forrest. Two of the three childcare facilities she is trying to get on the waitlist for are 45 minutes away.

Part of Evers’ call for the special session is for the legislature to contemplate the $365 million Evers is requesting for childcare programs statewide.

Evers had asked for $435 million in the new budget, but the State Legislature only provided $90 million in funding, looking to place most of the projected state surplus into an income tax cut projected to give most of the $3.5 billion in cuts to those making more than $200,000.

Evers said that the Republicans in the Legislature want to have some sort of cut, and he wants to get money for childcare, so maybe they can work together to reach both their goals.

“Maybe we could reach some accommodation,” Evers said.

He said doing nothing will hurt the economy.

The governor noted one study said that if funding is not provided, which would match programs Evers had been running with federal COVID dollars, there could be as many as 1,000 childcare operations closing across the state.

Many that remain open will face cutbacks.

“They are either going to have to close, pay their people less, or shrink their business,” Evers said.

In talking with Lancaster Mayor Stuart Harper and City Administrator David Carlson, the trio noted the need for childcare in order to allow parents to be able to get into the workforce.

“You should be concerned about our workforce, you should be concerned about childcare,” Evers said. “Every child that gets bounced out of childcare means a parent has to be at home to take care of them, meaning one less worker out there.”

Harper noted that without the funding, facilities in a similar position as Giggles & Wiggles will simply not be able to compete in a tight job market. “They need to be able to pay these care providers,” Harper said.

Giggles & Wiggles had to close for several days because of dwindling staff, which then led them to vote to close. Maple Street Kids Daycare, the largest facility in the city, is at 60 children instead of their licensed 75 because of staffing.

Carlson stated he was surprised business groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce have not spoken out about the need of childcare to help give the economy more workers.

“I think most Republicans understand that it means we need to have this to have a strong workforce,” Evers said. “ I have to believe Republican legislators will hear from moms and dads across the state.”

The funding that currently is coming from ARPA funds covers grant programs through the Childcare Counts program, which offers assistance to childcare facilities. The funding also covers Dream Up and Partner Up. Dream Up helps communities plan and create ideas to tackle childcare programs, while Partner Up supports businesses who will cover half the fees for childcare for employees.