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The Youth Development Center at the Bismarck YMCA has more than 200 children on its waiting list and the list had to be closed, center director Carmen Traeholt said. A couple of years ago, that number was about 100.

State aid for child care providers and parents has increased in an effort to shorten waiting lists and help pay for the rising prices being charged for care. More families now qualify for help with child care costs through the North Dakota Department of Human Services, and more grants are now available to encourage more providers to open or expand facilities.

"The cost of child care can take up a large portion of a family's income," said Carol Cartledge, Department of Human Services' Economic Assistance Policy Division director. "These changes will help more working families afford quality child care for their children."

Costs for care also have risen. According to North Dakota Child Care Resource and Referral, infant care in Burleigh County cost an average of $612 per month at a child care center in 2012. That number was $544 per month for 3- to 5-year-olds. In 2008 those numbers were $576 per month and $494 respectively.

Traeholt said the reason for the rising cost of care is related to providers' costs going up. She said the YMCA had to make adjustments to try to keep staff. The cost of gas has increased transport costs, as well as the cost of food.

The department's Child Care Assistance Program helps eligible families pay for child care while they work or attend school. Legislators recently increased the qualifying income levels and reduced family co-payments for care to try to help with the rising cost of child care.

Coverage has been expanded to families who make 85 percent of the state medium income. A family of three can now have a gross income up to $4,915 per month and still qualify for the program.

"We historically only assisted low income families," Cartledge said. "This expands the program to families with moderate income. This will have the biggest impact on that group of families."

Becky Berger, who operates a day care out of her home in Mandan, has had several families who received assistance. She said the program has helped them in the past and could definitely help even more people now. She said the assistance also will ensure children are getting good care because the state money can only be used on a licensed provider. She said it is hard enough for parents to afford tuition for one child: "What happens if they have two or three children?"

Cartledge said there was a great deal of discussion about child care assistance to families and facilities this legislative session, and these funding changes came about as part of that discussion.

The care assistance program serves about 2,420 children per month. The average monthly payment per family is $407. The maximum paid by the state for infant care is $663. Assistance amounts vary, with the lowest-income families receiving the most help.

"Over the last couple of years, because the income level in North Dakota has increased, we needed to take a look at it (the program)," Cartledge said. "We needed to keep pace with that increase in order to help more families."

The program is funded by the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant, along with state funds. This year, it received $2.5 million from the state general fund. Cartledge said the department predicts it will be able to assist 400 to 500 additional families over the next two years.

"We're feeling very excited and encouraged by the effort," said Jennifer Barry, early childhood services administrator for the Department of Human Services. "We're hopeful that we will see some positive impact."

Families can apply online at http://1.usa.gov/173l3mO  or by contacting a county social service office.

Parents need to provide a form of identification, children's birth certificates, pay stubs for all income in the previous and current month, and a work or education schedule.

Barry said in addition to helping families, the department also has more money for expanding existing day care programs and starting new programs. There also are child care grants through the North Dakota Department of Commerce and additional money for centers that serve special needs children.

Berger said the grant money could be a big help to others starting a day care but she doesn't qualify because she doesn't have the ability to expand her one person operation past caring for 12 children. Traeholt said it will be too late for the YMCA to apply this year, but next year the YMCA plans to apply for grants to open two classrooms in the new Mandan YMCA.

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com.

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Business Reporter