Growing wait list for child care subsidies taking its toll

CAFCA | April 11, 2017 |

 Thousands of low-income families hoping to receive child care subsidies are stuck in limbo as a wait list for the program swells.  About 3,400 needy families are now on the wait list to receive child care subsidies through the popular Care4Kids program. That number could grow to 5,000 families by this summer, advocates say. They expect 2,200 more families seeking summer-only subsidies to be turned away as well.

 

Any chance that number will shrink in the near future is growing less likely since the program is expected to limit new enrollment until at least until the end of June, when state officials say they can fully evaluate savings. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has called for limiting enrollment until 2019 to curb costs in the program, which is running a $33 million deficit.

 

Currently, about 12,000 families are enrolled in Care4Kids, receiving child care subsidies that range from $38 to $320 per week.  The program’s current challenges emerged largely because of new federal regulations put in place last year, after Congress approved changes to the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act two years earlier.

 

These regulations required Care4Kids to increase the program’s enrollment period to one year – up from eight months – while limiting paperwork for parents by reducing a number of stringent, meticulous reporting requirements to prove continuing eligibility. The reporting requirements often had tight deadlines for submitting information, and resulted in many families being kicked off the program even while they still qualified.

Federal lawmakers were hopeful these changes would give working families more financial stability – which advocates say has been the case. But because families are keeping their subsidies longer, the cost of operating Care4Kids has increased, producing a sizable deficit in the program’s budget. This led to the creation of a wait list last summer to limit enrollment.

 

“While we feel dreadful about the impact this is having on families, we feel pretty good about the children who are receiving a stable 12 months of either child care or early care and education as a result of the changes in the federal law,” said Linda Goodman, acting commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood, which oversees Care4Kids.

“I’m not sure that under the previous set of rules that, having four months of child care on average before something happened and parents lost it, was very beneficial to the children,” Goodman added.

 

Advocates say the federal changes, while well intentioned, came at the cost of limiting access to the program. They fault the federal government for enacting a new mandate without providing sufficient funding.