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Anne Hennessey already had notified staffers and parents that Friday would be the last day for the seven workers and 30 children at Close to My Heart child care center in Maplewood. Then came the ruling making it possible for the center to remain open.

"God bless the judge," Hennessey said on Wednesday after Ramsey County District Judge Kathleen Gearin reinstated about $16 million in monthly child care assistance payments for thousands of working, low-income families.

Advocates had argued that the payments are essential to keeping child care facilities open and allowing families to be able to go to work.

"Some of these legislators are just sitting in their offices not talking while people are suffering," Hennessey said. "They need a timeout; nobody plays with the blocks until they can play nice again."

Some centers had laid off staffers, and many were on the verge of closing next week, said Mary Nienow, executive of Child Care Works, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

The ruling reinstates government funding to July 1 for the basic sliding-fee program, which provides variable child care assistance to working families based on their income and ability to pay. The program supported 9,483 families per month, on average in 2010.

The program itself is not an essential government service, Gearin ruled, but she accepted the state's argument that it could not separate federal grant money for the court-approved Minnesota Family Investment Program for families working to get off welfare from the program.

The judge denied funding for Migrant Day Care and Migrant Day Care grants because they are not connected to the welfare program. Also not funded: programs that pay for child abuse and neglect preventions services.

She also denied permission to open a state wildlife area for the annual "Crawl 4 the Cure" fundraiser for the MS society

In other shutdown developments Wednesday:

• Two Republican transportation committee chairmen, Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, and Rep. Mike Beard, R-Shakopee, asked Gearin to allow spending $100 million on 98 highway projects. But when Beard suggested that court-appointed special master, former State Supreme Court Justice Kathleen Blatz, could call some state highway employees back to work, Gearin replied, "I can assure you she didn't sign up to be the commissioner of transportation. It sounds like you want Justice Blatz and I to be superactivist judges."

• Hundreds of racetrack workers, family members and politicians rallied at Canterbury Park in Shakopee to support its reopening. Track officials say that more than 1,000 workers have been laid off and that eight of the track's 62 racing days have been lost so far to the shutdown.

• In Duluth, the Georgia-Pacific's hardboard plant was shut down and its 150 employees sent home after the company's permit to use water from Lake Superior was suspended because of the government shutdown. Similar action may face the Sappi paper mill on the St. Louis River in Cloquet, with 780 employees.

Staff writers Lora Pabst, Bob Von Sternberg and Jeremy Olson contributed to this report. • 612-673-7253 • Twitter: @rachelsb