Who says Congress cannot get anything done? We do, on occasion – but in the case of affordable child care , our government has functioned correctly and passed useful legislation.
On November 19th, President Obama signed the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act of 2014, which passed Congress with bipartisan support. This legislation reauthorizes the CCDBG program through fiscal 2020 while making changes to improve child care quality and safety.
Among other changes, the bill contains family-friendly eligibility changes that may help you acquire or keep CCDBG benefits.
The CCDBG program costs approximately $5.3 billion annually and provides funds to states for use in each state’s child care assistance programs for low-income families, and sets the general guidelines of use for the block grants. States in turn provide vouchers to qualifying families to redeem at child care facilities of their choice.
The care applies to children up to the age of 13 (and above in special cases). In 2013, approximately 1.5 million children received the benefits of the program.
Parents that receive the aid must be working or in educational/training programs under state-defined parameters, and must stay below maximum income requirements. Children in protective services are also eligible.
States set their own levels for income requirements, but the qualification limit cannot be higher than 85% of the state median income (SMI). SMI is tiered based on family size. However, states do have latitude to determine how income is counted.
Many of the changes are focused on child care improvements as opposed to access. Among these changes are required annual state inspections of daycare facilities, tiered quality rating systems, mandated safety training, required criminal background checks for all staff members that have any unsupervised access to children, and improved transparency through electronic access of inspection reports and other important information.
The changes do not immediately widen access – that is still a function of individual states. However, the federal action does make it easier for you to keep your child care funding in cases where income fluctuates and other disqualifying events occur.
If your income rises above the state eligibility limit, you may actually be worse off if the increase in child care costs is above any raise you received. The previous law allowed for a one-month transition period, but with the new legislation, you have coverage for one year.
Should you lose your job, you now have a three-month coverage period that allows you to find new employment without disrupting your child care situation.
Other provisions could indirectly improve your access depending on your state’s policies. States are required to come up with a method of determining payment rates (market studies or cost-estimation models, for example), and establishing relative equal access. The intent is to make sure pricing is fair and not predatory or exclusive.
Further, the law mandates that states develop strategies not only to improve the quality of care in underserved areas, but also the quantity. States have latitude in how this is implemented, but at the very least, the law is forcing states to address child care deficits.
A nice overall summary of the CCDBG changes in layman’s terms may be found at the website of the Office of Child Care under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) at the web page http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/occ/resource/ccdbg-of-2014-plain-language-summary-of-statutory-changes.
If you are unsure of how the CCDBG changes may affect your family, contact the appropriate agency in your state (usually a Department of Human Services or similar agency). There may be help that you can take advantage of straightaway. When it comes to taking care of kids, we need all of the help that we can get.