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Hannah Matthews's picture

Recent headlines related to child care policy have been discouraging to say the least. In California, proposed budget cuts threaten to cut off child care assistance for 62,000 children. Florida proposes to save money by providing child care subsidies only for children under age 5, leaving young school-age children to fend for themselves after school while their parents are still at work.

Fewer children and families that need child care assistance get it today than at the beginning of the decade due to reduced income eligibility and growing child care waiting lists, according to a report on state child care assistance policies.

All of this is bad enough news. But now, new estimates from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) project that the number of children receiving child care assistance through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) will fall to the lowest level since 1998 (a 15-year low) in FY 2013, with more than 200,000 children potentially losing child care assistance absent additional funding. This is due to the loss of economic recovery funds and the impact of inflation.

CCDBG is the largest source of child care assistance funding and helps nearly 1 million low-income families afford the high costs of child care. In 2010, the latest year data are available, nearly half of these families had incomes below the federal poverty level (about $18,310 for a family of three in 2010), and nearly all (93 percent) received help because they were working or in training or education programs.

Child care assistance helps stabilize employment and leads to increased earnings, making a difference in the economic health and security of families. Access to subsidies allows working poor families to use their limited income to meet other basic needs such as food, rent, and household utilities.

Child care subsidies benefit children as well. Subsidies make quality child care more affordable. Most children (80 percent) receiving CCDBG assistance are cared for in licensed settings with the majority (66 percent) in center-based care. These children are more likely to experience stability in their care arrangements, which support healthy development.

Without access to child care assistance, parents make untenable choices. They may have to use lower quality child care and even unsafe environments just to have a place to for their children to go while they work. Without assistance, they must choose between paying child care costs or meeting other household costs.

With policymakers, academics, and economists coalescing around the importance of early learning, it is shocking that we would allow 200,000 more children to lose access to the very settings that could prepare them to succeed in school.  In the context of growing poverty, declining household incomes and still unacceptably high unemployment, taking help away from the working poor is nothing less than appalling.

Congress should increase funding for CCDBG by $825 million in FY 2013 to shore up help for working families with young children and avoid more senseless child care cuts.

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