The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) has issued their annual child care status report that shows improvement in some child care programs or policies in 33 states while an additional 13 states were worse off. The report, Turning the Corner: State Child Care Assistance Policies 2014 covers a period from February 2013 to February 2014. The NWLC indicates that this is the second year in a row in which the situation for families improved in more states than it worsened but that there are still significant gaps in families’ access to assistance and the level of that assistance. The report highlights shows that the past two years are a turnaround from the previous two years, when the situation worsened for families in more states than it improved. In 2012 families in twenty-seven states were worse off under one or more child care assistance policies and families in seventeen states were better off under one or more of policies reviewed. Despite the more recent progress the report provides evidence that over a longer period of time the nation has slipped backward. Families are better off in 2014 than 2012 but worse off than they were in 2001.
In releasing the report, Nancy Duff Campbell, Co-President of NWLC said, “We can make this a turning point for the families that need assistance. States have started to make progress in some areas, but this is no time to pull back on efforts. There are still too many parents who cannot afford the child care they need to work and ensure economic stability for their families, and too many children who cannot obtain the high-quality care they need to learn and develop.”
The report annually evaluates a number of state policies and practices that address the quality and availability of child care for families. The review looks at such items as waiting lists in those states that maintain such a list. Families on await list means the state does not have enough child care subsidies for all the families that qualify and need it under the income and policy restrictions a states chooses to have. Not all states keep these lists so it is difficult to assess all fifty states in this way. Other items such as income eligibility indicate just how big a population of families are eligible for child care support in that state. When originally created the child care block grant was intended as a support for both middle and low income families but as dollars are limited it is harder for states to provide such coverage. These income limits are also closely related to the co-payments families must pay to share in the child care costs. A state with higher income coverage may not be as generous as it appears if the required co-payment a parent must pay is too high to make child care available. The NWLC report also measures changes in this policy area. Reimbursement rates or the payments the states provide to child care providers are keys to the survival of child care programs and low reimbursements may force some providers out of business, increase turn over in staff, limit resources for the child care provider all of which can have an impact on child care availability and maintaining the quality of the program.
On the positive policy and action side the National Women’s Law Center found:
- Two states increased their income limits (expanded coverage) for child care assistance by a dollar amount that exceeded inflation between 2013 and 2014. Five states increased their income limits to adjust for multiple years of inflation, and twenty-nine states increased their income limits for one year of inflation.
- Eighteen states had waiting lists or frozen intake for child care assistance in 2014, lower than the nineteen states with waiting lists or frozen intake in 2013. Twenty-one states had waiting lists or frozen intake in 2001 but as noted, wait lists can be a sometimes challenging measure since some states do not keep or track families in need or unable to obtain child care subsidies despite being eligible.
- Sixteen states increased at least some of their reimbursement rates for providers serving families receiving child care assistance, while no state reduced its reimbursement rates. It should be noted that only one state had reimbursement rates at the federally recommended level in 2014. Provider rates are critical to child care quality since a low reimbursement rate may undercut a provider’s ability to maintain quality or to accept some families.
In addition to the report and the progress, the National Women’s Law Center has also pointed out that there has been a reduction in child care coverage nationwide. According to data from the Office of Child Care 1.46 million children received child care assistance through the Child Care and Development Block Grant in 2013, which is 47,500 fewer children than in 2012 and 358,700 fewer children than the peak in 2001.