Families living in 24 states experienced more limited access to assistance in paying for childcare or the benefits were more limited in 2013 compared to 2012, according to a new report from the National Women’s Law Center.
The report looks at income eligibility limits that determine whether families qualify for support, the length of waiting lists to get assistance, how big required copayments are, the reimbursement rates for child care providers, and eligibility for parents who are job hunting. For families in 27 states, things improved somewhat in one or more of those categories over the past year. Even so, families in 2013 were worse off in more states than they were in 2001.
Even with a decline in about half the states, this report is an improvement over past years. In 2012, families in 27 states were worse off under one or more of those categories, and in 2011 37 states pulled back on child care assistance. The decline was largely due to the extra $2 billion for child care assistance in the stimulus bill running out by 2011.
But things could get worse as sequestration hits. The report compares conditions each February, and this year’s analysis was before sequestration’s cuts took effect, although they may have weighed on budgeting decisions before then. Those cuts took $69 million out of the budget for the Child Care and Development Block Grant this year, which goes to the state assistance programs, and another round of cuts will hit next year unless sequestration is undone.
Sequestration has taken away other options for working parents. It has kicked 57,000 low-income preschoolers out of Head Start this year, leaving their parents scrambling to find other options. That figure is on top of earlier reductions when sequestration first hit. Some parents who had relied on Head Start as a place to send their children when they went to work report having to leave their jobs after their children were cut from the program.
It’s no wonder that any reduction in child care support would be a big burden on working parents. The cost of care in this country is astronomical, reaching as much as $15,000 a year for an infant in center care. Putting an infant and a four-year-old in a childcare center costs more than median rent in all 50 states and DC.