WASHINGTON — One of the biggest concerns that I hear from constituents here in Minnesota is the lack of access to affordable, quality child care. Indeed, our state ranks fourth in the country for having the most expensive child care — behind only California, Massachusetts and Washington, DC.

Throughout our state I’ve heard from parents who have had to make difficult decisions just to get their children quality care. Many parents have left the workforce entirely because the cost of child care would mean they’d either lose money or just break even paying for child care while they worked.

And it’s not just a matter of affordability — even parents who have the resources for child care can’t always find a licensed facility to watch their children. Today, more than half of Americans reside in areas classified as “child care deserts.” These are communities that have more than three children for every licensed child care slot.

The lack of available child care in our state was even highlighted nationally when, in December, The Washington Post wrote about the struggles families in Northern Minnesota have with finding any child care.

Lack of quality, affordable child care is also holding back the economy in parts of our state where businesses can’t attract potential workers because care is either unavailable or unaffordable in the area. Millions of working families pay more for child care than they do for their mortgage, college tuition or even food every month, and many more do not have access to licensed care at all.\

This is clearly a challenge facing far too many families here in Minnesota and across the country. That’s why I teamed up with Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan and Minnesota Representative Collin Peterson to introduce the Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Our legislation would provide incentives for states and communities to develop and expand the child care workforce or child care facilities, increasing the availability and affordability of quality child care in areas that need them the most.

One such community with an innovative approach to this crisis is Benson, where I met with city officials, community agencies and local businesses who’d worked together to create a child care center within an unused portion of the local high school. Their approach greatly reduced the cost associated with paying for rent utilities, and maintenance so that the child care center could focus on staffing and care, significantly lowering the cost for local families.

Benson’s model was so successful that the center is now at nearly full enrollment, serving over 125 children. In 2018, the community approved a ballot measure to expand the facility and provide even more children with quality care at an affordable price.

We need more communities to be able to do what Benson has done. The bipartisan Child Care Workforce and Facilities Act is one way to help ensure that more families have options available to them when planning for their careers and their children. And we shouldn’t stop there. I have also cosponsored legislation to ensure that no family making under 150 percent of their state’s median income spends more than seven percent of their income on child care and to provide workers with up to 12 weeks of paid family leave —solutions that would make a big difference to working families. Affordable, quality child care must be available to every family. Child care shortages across the country pose a moral and financial issue for communities when parents are forced to decide between working and staying at home with their children. This is an issue that is far too costly to ignore.