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Hannah Matthews's picture

Reduced income eligibility, growing child care waiting lists, and low provider payment rates. This characterizes the latest trends in state child care programs according to the National Women's Law Center’s annual report tracking these and other vital child care assistance policies.

In most states, children and families that need child care assistance fare worse today than they did a year ago or at the beginning of the decade, according to the report. Perhaps the starkest example of the downward trend in child care policies is the decline in the amount paid to providers to care for children receiving subsidies. In 2001, 21 states paid providers at the 75th percentile of a current market rate, the level recommended by federal guidelines to ensure that children in low-families have access to 75 percent of available child care. In 2011, just three states maintained provider payment rates at this recommended level. Without sufficient rates, child care providers cannot purchase and maintain materials and supplies, pay an adequate wage to teachers and staff and make investments that improve the quality of care. Moreover, when states pay very low rates to providers, it may discourage child care providers from accepting child care subsidy payments and reduces children’s access to high quality programs.

The landscape has grown bleak in part because states have exhausted ARRA funds that helped them hold ground in previous years. In addition, state budget cuts are crippling programs just when more families need help in a difficult economy.

The report should remind us that federal funding and state policies have real effects on individuals and families. In 22 states that report maintaining waiting lists or freezing intake, it is real families attempting to work who are left without help paying for child care. These families will have to reconsider employment options or choose less costly—and often less safe—child care for their children. These policies should once again remind us to take stock and think about the budget choices that we as a country are making and whether they support positive futures for children and access to opportunity for low-income working families.

For the complete state-by-state analysis, read State Child Care Assistance Policies 2011: Reduced Support For Families in Challenging Times.


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