Fewer families to receive childcare subsidy

MOREHEAD CITY — Some county families who depend on a subsidy for childcare will soon lose that benefit under new legislation enacted this month by the General Assembly.

The change lowers the amount of income a family can earn to qualify for a subsidy, so fewer families will be eligible. A higher income level opens up the program to more people. In addition, there’s a higher co-pay. It all starts Oct. 1.

The plan allows families that are already being served in the program to keep their subsidies until the next recertification period, which occurs one year from the first time a family is determined eligible by the County Department of Social Services.

About 400 children in Carteret County are currently served by the program and eventually all will be affected by the changes, said Kay Huffman, Department of Social Services family support services supervisor.

DSS plans to begin sending letters to childcare providers and affected families next week to notifying them of the changes.

Ms. Huffman said the program will still provide a valuable benefit to some families who qualify, but could financially strain, or even disqualify, others.

“They’ll be paying more out of pocket,” she said. “It may become a real hardship for some of these families. Others may make other arrangements if they can’t afford childcare. I just hope they make safe arrangements.”

Sherry Peel, executive director of Carteret County Partnership for Children, a nonprofit childcare advocacy group, agreed.

“Most of these are working families,” she said. “Parents are going to start looking for other solutions and my concern is they won’t be regulated or licensed childcare facilities. That’s really scary. These parents are going to be forced to make tough choices and they may not be in the best interest of the children.”

Johanna Gonzalez, director of Excel Learning Center in Beaufort, one of several county centers that serve families receiving subsidies, said she still didn’t understand enough about the changes to know if she would opt out daycare.

“I’m waiting to see how this will affect parents, and I still haven’t received anything from DSS,” she said. “It is kind of scary since it takes affect Oct. 1.”

The N.C. General Assembly approved changes to the state’s childcare subsidy program when it finalized its budget in early August. House and Senate members said they wanted to change the way the state determines who qualifies for childcare subsidies as a way to ensure that the youngest children from poor families receive help.

Formerly all children under 13 years of age whose parents earn less than 75 percent of the state median income – about $50,244 for a family of four – were eligible for a state subsidy.

The new requirements tie the subsidies to the federal poverty level, which is $23,850 for a family of four.

Under the new requirements, parents who have children younger than 6 will qualify for subsidies if they earn less than twice the federal poverty level.

If the children are 6 to 12 years old, the family’s income will have to be less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $31,720 for a family of four.

With the changes, those parents who do qualify will have to pay more. Currently the amount parents pay depends on the size of the family, and ranges from 8 to 10 percent of their monthly income. The new requirement calls for a co-pay that is 10 percent of monthly income, regardless of family size.

Plus, families who were formerly allowed to pay a prorated fee for part-time childcare will now be required to pay the full 10 percent fee regardless of whether they have full-time or part-time childcare.

The legislature’s fiscal research division estimated 11,997 of the 110,000, or about 11 percent of children who qualified for the subsidy in 2013, will be excluded. Of those who don’t qualify, 82 percent are 6 to 12 years old.

Families who qualify for childcare subsidies are often placed on a waiting list until funding becomes available from social services or another reimbursement entity. That usually happens when children age out of the program or when a family chooses to leave the waiting list.

Ms. Huffman said there are currently 181 county children on the waiting list. She anticipates that list to be much shorter when the new requirements take affect.

“We’ll be sending surveys out to determine if they are still eligible to be on the waiting list,” she said.

In March, 15,939 state families were on the waiting list, but that number has been as high as 50,000. Legislators anticipate that changing the eligibility rules will reduce the number of families on the waiting list by 3,200.

The changes do not decrease the state funding level, which stays at $348 million, most of which is federal funds. The state provides 20 percent of the money.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

Source Article from http://www.carolinacoastonline.com/news_times/article_02282698-2a20-11e4-a548-0019bb2963f4.html
Fewer families to receive childcare subsidy
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