Changes in child care policies and reduced funding negatively affected families in 37 states, according to a recent report from the National Women’s Law Center. The NWLC report helped inform a recent New York Times story – “Aid for Child Care Drops When It Is Needed Most.”
“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 Times reports. “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.”
NWLC summarizes its findings:
- Four states lowered their income eligibility limits as a dollar amount between 2010 and 2011. Only one state increased its income limits sufficiently to surpass inflation as measured against the change in the federal poverty level.
- The number of states with waiting lists for child care assistance in 2011 – 22 — was higher than the number of states with waiting lists in 2010, when 19 states had waiting lists, or in 2001, when 21 states had waiting lists.
- In nearly one-quarter to over two-fifths of the states, depending on income, families paid a higher percentage of their income in copayments in 2011 than in 2010, and in most of the remaining states, families paid the same percentage of their income in copayments in 2011 as in 2010. In approximately two-fifths to three-fifths of the states, families paid a higher percentage of their income in 2011 than in 2001.
- Only three states had reimbursement rates at the federally recommended level for providers who serve families receiving child care assistance in 2011, half the number of states – 6 — in 2010, and significantly lower than the number of states – 22 — in 2001.
- A total of 46 states allowed families receiving child care assistance to continue receiving it while a parent searched for a job in 2011, which was slightly lower than the number of states – 47 — in 2010.
Since February 2011, NWLC notes, 15 states instituted cutbacks in these policies as they confronted budget shortfalls.
“There’s a long history of recognition that child care is essential to helping low-income women work,” Helen Blank, the director of public policy at the National Women’s Law Center, tells the Times. “That commitment is being eroded.”
“For children in families waiting for the subsidy, life becomes a kaleidoscope of caretakers,” the Times reports. “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.”