December 2011

MPR PoliGraph: Lawmaker’s Claim on Daycare Union Misses

Minnesota Public Radio | December 14, 2011

By Catharine Richert

Two Minnesota unions want to organize Minnesota’s in-home child care workers, and the effort has sparked a heated battle between the Dayton administration and Republicans in the Legislature.

Among those who oppose the effort is Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, who sent a letter to child care providers encouraging them to reject unionization.

On Dec. 2, he wrote that, while only some day care providers will be able to vote on whether to unionize, “the other 7,000 providers will be forced to pay full or ‘fair share’ union dues, and will be subject to additional regulation, even though they were denied the right to vote in this election.”

Westrom’s claim is false.

The Evidence

Two Minnesota unions – American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union – are trying to unionize the state’s in-home day care providers.

On Nov. 15, Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order that would allow Minnesota’s day care providers who are licensed and registered, and who participate in a state program that subsidizes child care to vote on unionization. That’s roughly 4,200 providers out of the approximately 11,000 in the state.

If the majority of those 4,200 agree, it would give the union the right to hash out issues, such as regulation and subsidy rates, with the administration. At this point, a court has put a restraining order on Dayton’s executive order but Dayton plans to contest that order.

So, Westrom is correct that only some child care providers will be able to vote on whether there should be a union. But he’s wrong that those who don’t want to be in the union would have to pay fair share union dues.

A Frequently Asked Questions document on the executive order from Dayton’s office is clear on this:

“The Minnesota Fair Share law (Minn. Stat. § 179A.06, subd. 3), which requires all public employees to contribute ‘a fair share fee for services rendered by the exclusive representative,’ would not apply to these family child care providers.”

Dayton’s executive order makes clear that, “nothing in this order shall be construed to require participation, or the involuntary payment of dues by any family child care provider.”

As for additional regulation, Westrom is off the mark there as well. At this point, unionization doesn’t come with additional regulations, let alone regulations that all of Minnesota’s 11,000 in-home child care workers would be subject to.

Westrom conceded that given the complexity of the issue and the amount of context needed, the sentence may have been better written as: “The other 7,000 providers may be forced to pay full or “fair share” union dues, and will be subject to additional regulation, even though they were denied the right to vote in this election.”

The Verdict

Under Gov Dayton’s order child care providers who are not allowed to vote on unionization will not have to pay fair share dues.

Westrom’s claim is false.

SOURCES

Letter, Rep. Torrey Westrom to constituents, Dec. 2, 2011

Office of Gov. Mark Dayton, Governor Dayton issues executive order calling for union election among child care providers, November 15, 2011

Office of Gov. Mark Dayton, Frequently Asked Questions about Child Care Collective Bargaining, accessed Dec. 13, 2011

Associated Press via Minnesota Public Radio News, Dayton to contest child care unionization ruling, December 8, 2011

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MPR News | Uneven Support Among Opponents of Child Care Workers

Minnesota Public Radio | December 15, 2011

By Tim Pugmire

St. Paul, Minn. — Opponents of a campaign to unionize in-home child-care providers have boasted that their lawsuit that stopped the union vote is backed by a broad coalition of like-minded organizations.

But only one of the six conservative political groups that make up that coalition has actually spent any money on the legal fight.

A coalition called Childcare Freedom is paying part of the legal bill. The coalition is made up of six organizations with conservative fiscal or social agendas. They are Education Liberty Watch, Minnesota Family Council, Minnesota Free Market Institute, Minnesota Majority, Minnesota Voters Alliance and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

During a November news conference announcing the lawsuit aimed at halting the unionization vote, attorney Tom Revnew laid out his clients’ contention that Gov. Mark Dayton exceeded his authority by ordering the election. But Revnew declined to say who was paying for his services.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss who or how or why,” Revnew said. “I simply state that we represent 11 plaintiffs currently, and that there may be others that we may represent.”

Dan McGrath, executive director of Minnesota Majority, said opposition to the unionization effort is a good fit for the group. Minnesota Majority is mostly known for supporting a proposed photo ID requirement for voters.

“When we discovered what was happening, we felt that we had to intervene, because it was so outrageous,” McGrath said.

“Minnesota Majority has been concerned about monitoring government overreach and trying to fight it back,” McGrath said. “This was clearly a case of government overreach, with the governor issuing an executive order the judge has now said he has no right to issue.”

McGrath says Minnesota Majority has “tens of thousands of subscribers,” but won’t specify their numbers. Under federal law, groups structured like Minnesota Majority don’t have to disclose their donors or how much they give. However, they must report how much they spend on legal costs and lobbying. McGrath said his organization has put about $20,000 toward what he expects to be an expensive legal battle against the unionization effort.

“The unions and the governor have the luxury of using taxpayer-supported attorneys, and a whole bunch of them,” McGrath said. But these child care providers don’t have any money to spend on giant legal fights. So, these non-profit organizations have had to step in, otherwise they would be on their own with no defense against this unionization effort.”

To help pay legal costs, the Childcare Freedom Coalition is conducting an online fundraising drive, with a goal of $50,000. While all six member organizations share similar concerns about daycare unions, they have not followed Minnesota Majority’s lead with similar donations. Representatives of the five other groups told MPR News they have not yet provided any money in support of the lawsuit. Tom Prichard of the Minnesota Family Council said his organization has lent only its voice to the cause.

“We don’t have any plans from our own budget to fund it. But obviously individuals will be involved I’m sure,” Prichard said. Dayton said he wonders about the source of the money to fights his executive order in court. He said the public deserves greater transparency. Dayton’s campaign for governor was backed by unions, and his critics say the order on child care was a form of payback. The DFL governor denies that claim, but he says anti-union forces are driving the opposition.

“It’s not about my executive authority. It’s about they don’t want to give the child care providers a chance to vote on whether or not they want a union,” Dayton said. “They want to impose their own view, which is no union, on them by not permitting an election, and I just think that’s fundamentally wrong in a democracy. But we’ll see how it unfolds next month.” Dayton is contesting Judge Dale Lindman’s temporary restraining order that stopped the election. A hearing on whether to expand the order is scheduled January 17th in Ramsey County District Court.

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NY Times: Child Care Subsidies Drop When Families Need Them Most

New York Times | December 14, 2011

By Sabrina Tavernise

BALTIMORE — With states under pressure to cut their budgets and federal stimulus money gone, low-income working parents are facing a paradox. Just when they have to work longer hours to make ends meet, they are losing access to the thing they need most to stay on the job: a government subsidy that helps pay for child care.

The subsidy, a mix of federal and state funds that reimburses child care providers on behalf of families, is critical to the lives of poor women. But it has been eaten away over the years by inflation and growing need and recently by state budget cuts, leaving parents struggling to find other arrangements to stay employed.

“States have dropped their investment in child care substantially,” said Linda Saterfield, vice chairwoman of the National Association of State Child Care Administrators, who oversees child care for the state of Illinois. “We’re being expected to do more with less.” Her state has toughened eligibility for the subsidies and raised co-payments from families to cover the growing demand.

Sheontay Smith, a single mother in Baltimore, and her son are among nearly 8,000 families on a waiting list for the subsidy in Maryland. Pennsylvania’s list doubled since last year to more than 10,000 children, and Arkansas’s quadrupled to 11,000, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

At least two states, Arizona and Utah, are no longer appropriating state general funds for child care at all.

According to a recent report by the law center, families in 37 states were worse off this year than last year as waiting lists grew, co-payments rose, eligibility tightened and reimbursement rates for providers stagnated.

“We recognize that this is a tough time for states,” said Shannon Rudisill, who oversees the subsidy program at the Administration for Children and Families, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. “They have a hard set of choices that they have to negotiate.”

She said that President Obama had recommended an increase in the subsidy in the 2011 budget, but that it had not been approved by Congress. Stimulus money, which had raised financing by a fifth in 2009 and 2010, is now gone.

Christian Griffith, chief consultant of the California Assembly Budget Committee, said the state cut $335 million in child care financing this year, and with hundreds of millions in cuts to other public services — courts, schools and the public university system — “there aren’t many good options at this point.”

The nonprofit Child Care Resource Center, which determines eligibility for the subsidy for thousands of families in northern Los Angeles County, said it had noted a 13 percent decline in licensed child care centers since June 2010 as budget cuts reduced the numbers of families on the subsidy.

The reduction is prompting advocates for poor women to question whether the implied social contract that emerged during the federal welfare overhaul in the 1990s — that women go to work in exchange for help with child care — is fraying.

“There’s a long history of recognition that child care is essential to helping low-income women work,” said Helen Blank, the director of public policy at the National Women’s Law Center, who helped shape child care policy in the 1990s. “That commitment is being eroded.”

For children in families waiting for the subsidy, life becomes a kaleidoscope of caretakers. Women interviewed for this article said they left their children with grandparents, neighbors, cousins, siblings, and colleagues at a nail salon. Such ad hoc arrangements hinder early-childhood development, state administrators say, just as states are trying to make it a priority.

One mother on a waiting list in Virginia said her 11-year-old daughter rode around in a city bus after school, watched over by the driver, who is the girl’s grandmother, until the mother got off work. The smaller safety net comes as the share of working Americans under or just above the poverty line — the target group for the subsidy, which is linked to income — is the highest in years. And while demand for the subsidy declined with the recession, it has shot back up in many states as employment has returned, putting new strain on child care resources.

“We’ve seen quite a steep increase in demand,” said Elizabeth Kelley, director of Maryland’s Office of Child Care.

Ms. Smith, who works full time at the Baltimore Housing Authority, has been on a waiting list since summer. She applied because her son’s father stopped paying child support, and the monthly $520 she needed for her 3-year-old’s day care was more than her $22,000 salary could support.

She took her son out, but ended up losing half her paycheck in unpaid days off because her regular baby sitters, among them Ms. Smith’s grandmother, who is on kidney dialysis, fell through. The only way to get the subsidy, her caseworker told her, was to stop working and go on welfare. (In Maryland, someone on welfare is automatically eligible.)

“Is the system set up for me to fail? Because that’s what it feels like,” said Ms. Smith.

For the entire story, click here.

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MPR News Investigation: “We Set Our Own Dues, We Make Our Own Decisions”

MPR News | December 14, 2011

By Catharine Richert

St. Paul, Minn. — When day care provider Sue Winn was first approached about joining a union, she was skeptical.

“We didn’t know if they were going to come in and force us to do things that we didn’t want to do, whether the dues were going to be really high,” said Winn, who takes care of kids in her home north of Seattle, Washington.

But eventually, Winn came around.

“We set our own dues, we make our own decisions,” she said. “But we have the support of paid union workers who have lobbying powers, we have numbers. It’s given us a whole lot of power we didn’t have before.”

Winn could be any one of the providers in Minnesota who have found themselves at the center of a battle over whether to unionize. It’s a debate that has pitted the state’s executive branch against the courts, Republicans in the Legislature against DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the unions against some of the very workers they seek to represent. It’s prompted issue ads, a lawsuit, a restraining order meant to block a unionization vote, and several legislative hearings.

Some say child care could cost parents and the state more. Others believe that unionization will lead to better child care options, and will give providers a unified voice in St. Paul.

But for all the strife, it is unclear precisely how organizing Minnesota’s in-home day care providers would affect the state. A look at how unionization has played out elsewhere provides some clues.

UNION WOULD LIKELY PUSH FOR HIGHER STATE SUBSIDIES

Fifteen other states have organized child care provider unions, and each has different rules. Some include only workers who participate in taxpayer funded programs that assist low-income parents. Others encompass all providers, and those who would rather not participate must still pay a fee.

Union officials say their primary goal is to work with the state to professionalize a disparate industry that doesn’t benefit from a strong presence among lawmakers.

Dayton’s executive order mandates licensed in-home care providers who participate in the state’s Child Care Assistance Program to vote on unionization. That’s about 4,200 workers; the roughly 7,000 remaining providers who don’t collect subsidies from the state would not be allowed to vote.

An affirmative vote would grant the union the opportunity to meet with the state to hash out changes to rules, to negotiate better subsidy rates, and lobby for better training. The providers would not be considered state employees. The type of day care union Minnesota providers are mulling would be unusual compared to those in other states: Dayton’s executive order does not require workers who take subsidized kids to join the union, and those who don’t want to participate would not have to pay a fair-share representation fee, despite the fact that Minnesota is a fair-share state.

In the last legislative session, the state cut child care subsidies by 2.5 percent to save $6.6 million over two years. Reinstating that funding and increasing rates would be a top goal for a potential day care union, said Jennifer Munt, spokeswoman for American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 5, which would represent providers in the northern part of the state.

“A 2.5 percent pay cut for providers and for people who are operating on a very thin margin makes it more difficult” to adequately prepare kids for school, she said.

Boosting subsidies would come at a cost to the state.

In Washington, for instance, the state appropriated $86 million in 2007 to fund the union contract, which included a subsidy bump, according to a report by the National Women’s Law Center, which supports unionization. And the Oregon legislature approved $39.9 million to support higher rates, training and other aspects of its agreement with the new union.

Unionization proponents say that it’s become difficult to negotiate more money given leaner state coffers. With a projected deficit of $1.3 billion in the next two year budget cycle, Minnesota is no different.

But they argue it’s worth the investment.

Bigger subsidies mean poorly-paid providers will make more; others will have a stronger incentive to take low-income children, they say. And in some states, negotiations have resulted in allowing more low-income parents to take advantage of subsidized child care, and better training for providers who might not otherwise have access to such instruction, said Helen Blank, director of leadership and public policy at the National Women’s Law Center.

[...]

TO JOIN OR NOT TO JOIN

Jennifer Parrish, who takes care of kids in her home in Rochester, Minn., and who opposes unionization, said she’s worried the cost of union dues will be passed along to parents, ultimately driving up the cost of day care.

There’s scant evidence that would be the case, though. Dues in other states range from $25 to $50 monthly and other providers – pro-union or not – say they haven’t raised their rates to cover the cost. In Minnesota, those dues would be taken out of the state subsidy checks providers receive for taking care of low-income kids.

But that’s a minor concern compared to what could come, Parrish said. She points to the possible addition of pre-school curriculum or higher provider-to-child ratios in the home as things that could make child care pricier – decisions she may have no say in, even though Dayton’s executive order allows any organization to weigh-in on child care issues.

Rose Grimes is a provider in Kansas who said her choice was between joining a union she opposes for a voice in state-level negotiations or swallowing new rules she disagrees with.

In her opinion, her local union has so far tired to dumb-down child care rules because the people who need union representation most aren’t very good workers to begin with. And she’s frustrated that regulation changes don’t reflect the variety of in-home providers in her state.

“That’s what’s so great about family child care,” she said. “We’re all different.”

The above is an excerpt of the article. For the full version, click here.

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Rochester Post-Bulletin | Child Care Providers Should Decide for Themselves

Rochester Post-Bulletin | December 13, 2011

By Julie Rustan

Since 2005, family child care providers throughout Minnesota have been working to join together in a union. This wasn’t a decision that was made on a whim; it was a response to a growing crisis facing our industry. Unfortunately, in the years that followed, especially in the recent past, the crisis has worsened.

It is because of this worsening crisis that I decided to stand up and publicly support the movement of my fellow providers to form a union through SEIU Kids First Local 284. In order to improve our industry and the care we provide to the children and families who count on us each day, we need a strong voice at the state capitol.

This need for a strong voice has become even more apparent in the public campaign that has been waged against our desire to form our union, and against Gov. Dayton’s executive order calling for a vote of providers. In the process, we have seen unbelievable distortions, personal attacks and partisan grandstanding directed at us.

All we have asked for is a vote to decide whether or not family child care providers want to form a union. It is a decision that should be made by us — not by political operatives in St. Paul who clearly have no interest in improving our industry or helping working families access child care today.

I’m not a politician. I don’t even like politics. But I’m passionate about the work I do.

The children I care for deserve an honest discussion about the challenges that I face in operating my business. Unfortunately, those against forming a union have decided instead to provide child care providers and the general public with a series of lies and distortions. Most of these are related to decisions that haven’t been made yet, choices that we will make together in a democratic process once the union is formed. When speculation — like the amount of union dues a provider will pay, the membership of the union or the possible scope of activities — is presented as fact, providers receive false and deceptive information.

These decisions will be made by those of us who gather at the table in a democratic process, not by radically partisan politicians in St. Paul who are seeking to deny us any form of democracy, including the vote that was scheduled to begin Dec. 7.

Time and again, family child care providers have seen what happens when we allow others to speak for us. Family child care associations, for instance, do great work providing information and other services. However, they have failed us when it comes to advocating for our industry at the capitol.

Without this needed help, we’ve had to go it alone. That simply hasn’t worked. Today, more than 7,000 Minnesota families are on waiting lists for child care assistance. As a result, each of these families who qualify for the program are unable to access it, making their work or school lives even more insecure then they are now. At the same time, the Legislature continuously cuts funding to the child care assistance program.

Instead of finding a solution to the soaring waiting lists, politicians in St. Paul worsened the problem by cutting funding by 2.5 percent in the most recent budget. Family child care providers are the experts about their industry and have not been at the table. It’s time for that to change.

For far too long, we’ve trusted politicians and associations to represent us in St. Paul. They have failed us. We want and need a voice for our industry, our kids and our families.

I planned to enthusiastically vote “yes” for SEIU Kids First Local 284 before radical special interests orchestrated a lawsuit to block the democratic election process. My desire to form a union hasn’t changed. The future of Minnesota’s children is dependent on high-quality care and early learning.

I remain committed to making sure our industry continues to improve through a stronger, organized voice. I remain committed to a union.

Julie Rustan is a child care provider from Rochester.

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Rep. Nora Slawik: Challenging Myths

Pioneer Press | December 4, 2011

With all the opinions and emotional rhetoric around the unionization of in-home child care workers, it’s essential to have accurate information for the public, legislators and child care providers. I’d like to take this opportunity to make the case for unionization and dispel some of the myths floating around.

Whatever the rationale of the unions, the result of the effort, as I see it, should be improved care and education for our youngest children and stabilized costs for parents.

Currently, half of Minnesota’s children aren’t ready for kindergarten and one out of every five children lives in poverty. We have one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation. These facts should be unacceptable to Minnesotans.

The achievement gap starts when a child is born into poverty and only becomes more difficult and expensive to close as the child progresses through the K-12 system. Numerous studies, including one from the Federal Reserve, show that for every government dollar put into early learning we can get a $12-$17 return on investment through reduced costs for special education, remedial services and juvenile justice costs. It’s a win-win: a better future for our kids and savings in future state budgets.

In-home child care providers are an important part of early learning; they’re professionals, educators and caretakers. They love what they do, and have been powerless as they watch working families in their area struggle with job losses and increasing child care

costs. They’ve watched state child care funding for low income families cut dramatically – by $26 million in the last budget – all while not having a voice at the discussion table. And sadly, more than 6,000 children remain on waiting lists for state-funded child care assistance.

Unionization would give in-home child care providers a unified voice to push for improvements in the child care reimbursement rate and the quality and affordability of child care.

Bearing all this in mind, I’d like to dispel some of the most prevalent myths on child-care-provider unionization in the hopes of redirecting our conversation back to doing right by our kids, parents, and providers.

Myth: If in-home child care workers are unionized, rates will increase for families.

Reality: Child care unions won’t set rates for families. Individual child care providers would remain private businesses and would be negotiating rates and fees with parents.

Myth: If a majority vote for unionization, all in-home child care providers will be forced to unionize, even if they voted no.

Reality: Gov. Dayton’s executive order clearly states that no provider is required to join a union. AFSCME and SEIU, the two unions involved, are seeking to organize only those child care providers who receive subsidies from the state. Even among those providers, no one can be forced to join a union.

Myth: Child care unionization, along with a quality ratings system like Parent Aware, is just big government trying to tell you how to raise your children.

Reality: A quality ratings system – which gives parents the opportunity to see star ratings for child care programs before enrolling their children in them – is solely designed to improve early learning and quality child care. The quality ratings system has even received broad bipartisan support in the past. We need serious improvement and investment in our child care and education and that’s the goal of these proposals. Furthermore, I believe the primary effect of unionization would be better care and education for young children.

Myth: Only 4,300 providers get to vote but all 11,000 child care providers will be directly affected.

Reality: The 4,300 providers voting in the election are registered to accept children receiving child care subsidies. These providers are caring for children at lower rates than the prevailing market rate for child care. So if the child care union successfully advocated with the Legislature to increase their subsidies, this change would not impact non-union providers.

Despite the scare tactics on this particular point, a child-care union would not possess the kind of unilateral power to directly impact how non-union providers run their business. Providers who do not receive state subsidies or choose not to join the union will still be welcome to work with the Legislature, communicate with the Department of Human Services, and work to change the laws and rules that affect child care. Furthermore, any significant policy, statute, or regulatory changes would have to go through the legislative process, and could not be enacted solely by a union and state agency.

Myth: Child care unionization is only about Gov. Dayton and DFL lawmakers doing the bidding for unions they are beholden to.

Reality: In-home child care providers have been attempting to unionize since 2005, long before Gov. Dayton’s administration. The executive order grants providers the right to vote and decide for themselves whether they want to form a union.

The issue of child care unionization has raised strong opinions and emotions from people on both sides. But as the saying goes, “You’re entitled to your own opinions; you’re not entitled to your own facts.” We need to move past the baseless charges and remember that regardless of the election outcome, this is about doing right by our children. We must move forward in the most responsible way possible to ensure that goal.

Nora Slawik is the state representative for District 55B, representing Oakdale and Maplewood, and is the lead DFL member on early childhood issues. She was recently appointed as an Early Learning Fellow for the National Conference of State Legislators. She can be reached by phone at 651-296-7807 or by email at rep.nora.slawik@house.mn.

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Statement Regarding Senate Committee Hearing

South St. Paul (December 1, 2011) — This morning the Minnesota Senate Committee on Rules and Administration will hold yet another hearing regarding the movement by family child care providers throughout the state to join together and form a union. This is the fifth such informational hearing since September.

SEIU Local 284 released the following statement from Executive Director Carol Nieters:

“Rather than supporting child care providers and the working families they serve, GOP legislators and the usual suspects of anti-working family organizations have turned what should be a simple decision of child care providers into a partisan political game against the Governor.

“There is a child care crisis in Minnesota, as more than 7,000 of our state’s families are unable to access quality child care and more and more family child care providers are forced to close their doors at astounding rates. But rather than giving these working families, including child care providers, the support they need to keep their jobs or to leave the rolls of the unemployed, GOP legislators cut CCAP funding this year as thousands more families are waiting to access the program. And astoundingly, they have sued, trying to prevent child care providers from choosing for themselves whether to join together for the support they need to stay in business and keep costs down for the families they serve.

“Rather than supporting child care providers and the families they serve, GOP legislators and their anti-working family allies spread patently false information and baseless conjecture to create confusion and fear about what should be a simple decision of child care providers who want to improve their profession for the kids and families they serve.

“Enough is enough.  The care and well-being of Minnesota’s children is far too important to allow for these tactics to continue.  It is time to rise above partisan politics and focus on the real problems facing Minnesota’s child care industry. Minnesota’s kids deserve no less.”

In September, the number of families on the basic sliding fee waiting list rose to 7,046. In August, the number of families reported on the list was 6,419, an increase of 627 families. [Minnesota Department of Human Services, September 2011]

Since 2000, 6,800 family child care providers have stopped providing services. The number of family child care providers providing services through the federal Child Care and Development grant has systematically decreased since 2000, without taking into account a slight spike in 2004. It has declined from more than 18,700 in 2000 to more than 11,900 in 2009. In other words, there were approximately 6,800 less providers in 2009 than in 2000. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, FFY 2000 and FFY 2009]

More than 75 percent of eligible families do not get Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) assistance because the program is not fully funded. Even parents well-above the poverty line struggle to locate and pay for quality care. [Children’s Defense Fund Minnesota, Bridge to Benefits]

For an entire report on the child care crisis in Minnesota, click here.

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