Suffolk bucking trend in cuts to govt.-subsidized child care

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 5, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

While nearly half the states have reduced access to government-subsidized child care for low income families over the past two years, according to congressional auditors, funding remains in tact for local families.

Virginia will continue to provide funding to 288 local families. In fact, the director of Suffolk’s Department of Social Services, Leonard Horton, said no cuts are scheduled for 2004.

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&uot;Virginia allocates about $62 million in At-Risk Child Care funding to localities annually based on a funding formula,&uot; said Horton. &uot;Suffolk receives about $670,000 annually.&uot;

Horton added that funds are for families that currently are not receiving public assistance through the &uot;Temporary Assistance for Needy Families&uot; (TANF) program, but who are employed and have limited income. A sliding co-pay schedule is applied based on the household income.

Suffolk’s Department of Social Services currently maintains a waiting list of people waiting for available funding.

Horton said Suffolk also receives funding to provide child-care services for those families either receiving TANF or transitioning from the program.

&uot;As this funding is an entitlement for TANF recipients there is no cap on the funding from the state,&uot; said Horton. &uot;We have recently received correspondence from the state outlining our child-care allocations for next year and they do not reflect any reductions in funding.

We anticipate having funding to provide assistance to approximately the same number of families that we have this year.&uot;

The congressional report comes as Congress debates changes to the welfare system, including whether to increase spending on child care and, if so, by how much. There’s widespread agreement that single mothers working in low-paying jobs have enormous difficulty staying employed without access to reliable child care and help paying for it.

The General Accounting Office was unable to determine the impact on the number of children served, but congressional Democrats who requested the study said it provides ammunition to increase federal spending on child care.

Overall, 25 states report that they serve all families who apply and are eligible for subsidies under state guidelines. The other 25, plus the District of Columbia, report that they do not.

In his welfare proposal, President Bush wants to require states to put more welfare recipients to work and to make each person work more hours, though he has not asked for any additional child care money. Administration officials note that welfare rolls have been cut by more than half, leaving states plenty of money for child care and other services.

Democrats say more child care spending is needed, particularly if work requirements are increased. Without it, they argue, states will be forced to cut back on support services that allow families to get off and stay off cash assistance.

The GAO report finds states, facing intense fiscal pressures, are already cutting back. Most of the cuts affect low-income families who have not been on welfare; some affect those leaving welfare for low-paying jobs.

Specifically, the GAO reported that since January 2001, 23 states cut back:

Fourteen states changed their income criteria to make it more difficult to qualify for help, requiring families to be poorer if they want subsidies.

Another five states made other changes to narrow eligibility.

_Nine states began using waiting lists for child care subsidies, which help pay the cost of private centers or other providers.

_Eight states plus the District of Columbia stopped providing subsidies to new families applying for child care.

_Ten states increased co-payments that families must pay to get child care.

Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., who requested the GAO report, said cutting child care could force families out of the work force and onto welfare.

&uot;This report confirms our worst fears,&uot; he said in a statement. &uot;If this trend continues our nation will take a major step backwards in promoting work and protecting children.&uot;