Child care funding: States increase aid as congressional effort stalls

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Albany, NY

Difficulties in finding affordable childcare cost Enoshja Ruffin her job three years ago. The mother-of-six was fired from her job as a counselor for children with cerebral palsy after missing three shifts because she struggled to find babysitters.

After three months on a waiting list, however, she places her children in a daycare whose costs are covered by government subsidies and the daycare’s financial assistance program.

“If I hadn’t received financial aid, I wouldn’t have succeeded. I wouldn’t have a diploma. I would be just another stat,” said Ms. Ruffin, who is in her late 20s and lives in Utica, New York. She was able to attend college while her children were in daycare and now works as an organizer for the liberal political group Citizen Action.

Washington Democrats had big ambitions this year to increase child care subsidies nationwide as part of a sweeping domestic spending bill. But with those plans stalled due to a lack of bipartisan support, some states have moved forward with their own plans.

New York lawmakers passed a state budget in the spring asking it to spend $7 billion to make child care more affordable over the next four years.

The legislation will double previous state support for government grants that help families with some or all of their childcare costs. Eligibility will be extended to more middle-income families. Under the new rules, a family of four with an annual household income of up to $83,250 will be eligible for grants.

Last spring, New Mexico raised income eligibility for subsidies to the highest level of any state. A family of four with an annual household income of up to $111,000 can now get at least some government assistance. Through June 2023, New Mexico will also waive child care fees, saving families $400 to $900 per month, depending on their income level.

Rhode Island lawmakers passed a state budget last month that includes a one-time tax credit of $250 per child to help pay for child care costs, nearly doubles the number of spaces available in government-funded pre-kindergarten programs and provides subsidies for child care workers.

All of these measures were aimed at addressing an affordability challenge. In 2019, child care centers in the United States charged an average of $406 per week for children under 18 months, $315 per week for children 18-35 months, and $289 per week for 3-5 year olds.

Ronora James, a daycare center based in Rochester, New York, said it had lost staff to fast food restaurants offering competitive salaries.

Child care workers earned an average hourly wage of $13.22 in the United States in May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The minimum wage in New York ranges from $13.20 to $15 per hour, depending on the part of the state.

“People have to go where the money is to survive, and that’s a problem for us,” Ms James said.

“In New York, we have some of the highest minimum wages in the country, but a minimum wage worker must work 26 weeks at minimum wage to pay for child care for their family,” said New York Governor Kathy Hochul. a Democrat, said Monday at an event promoting state investments in child care. “It’s too much to ask of our families.”

Although child care has seen growing bipartisan support in recent years, some Republican leaders are cautious about expanding government assistance.

“I support moves to create more quality, accessible, and reliable child care options, especially as costs continue to rise,” said the GOP House Minority Leader. of New York, William Barclay, in a statement. “However, as we have seen repeatedly in state programs, the level of spending and how funds are distributed need to be closely monitored. Too often, state-run programs spiral out of control and fail to deliver the services intended. Despite the Governor’s lofty promises, we cannot allow this to happen here.

New York’s legislation also increased state reimbursements to child care providers, which the industry said was needed to help centers remain financially viable.

Since January 2020, the number of center and family child care centers in the state has decreased by about 1,326, according to Pete Nabozny, director of policy for The Children’s Agenda. Most of these programs are run by women and people of color, he said.

Some New York lawmakers say they eventually want to make child care available for free starting in kindergarten. Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Sarah Clark, both Democrats, said they hope to garner support in the state’s next legislative session for more changes, including expanding eligibility even further. and increasing provider compensation.

“I think childcare is one of the few places where it’s hard to fix a piece of it. You have to repair the whole system in one go. Hopefully we can continue to build on what we’ve done so far and do more,” Clark said.

This story was reported by the Associated Press/Report for America. Maysoon Khan is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.

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