State largely stops enrolling new families for child care subsidies

The state has retreated from its previous decision to cut off child care subsidies currently provided to thousands of low-income parents so they can work, and will instead largely stop accepting new families into the program starting Aug. 1.

An empty day care classroom in Bridgeport file photo

An empty day care classroom in Bridgeport

The shift means that thousands of children from poor families who previously would have qualified for weekly child care subsidies that range from $38 to $320 will no longer be eligible.

About 700 families (1,050 children) each month were joining the Care4Kids subsidy program before this change.

“We believe that maintaining continuity of care for children currently enrolled in the Care4Kids program is of the utmost importance,” said Myra Jones-Taylor, the commissioner of the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood. “We are pleased we were able to find a solution that ensures families currently receiving the Care4Kids subsidy will be able to remain in the program.”

Despite the change, teen parents and those receiving welfare benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program will still be able to enroll for the child care subsidy. These populations currently make up just under one-third of the enrollment in the program.

Those enrolled in the program all make under 50 percent of the state’s median income. For a single mom with two children, that’s $44,000.

The state announced last month that it would have to kick 10,800 children who currently receive the subsidy off the program to close an estimated $34 million budget gap that developed in the fiscal year that begins July 1 because of changes in federal rules.

The state and federal government together currently spend $122 million each year to help about 21,000 children each month attend preschool or day care through the Care4Kids program.

Program costs are expected to rise drastically next year because of changes in federal law that are not accompanied by increased federal funding. Under the new federal rules families who lost their full-time jobs or whose income rose too much will no longer immediately lose their subsidies, but will be allowed to stay in the program for three months once families no longer qualify.

Also, continued eligibility for the program will be redetermined every 12 months rather than every eight months to lessen the paperwork burden on participants. That change, however, will keep some people whose income rises over the maximum receiving the subsidy for longer.

State officials say more federal funding needs to accompany the federal rules changes.

“We don’t want to pit quality against access, and what we are doing is eliminating access,” Jones-Taylor, the Connecticut’s commissioner testified last week before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions.

The state has not determined when it will resume enrolling families in the program, but it is maintaining a wait list for qualified parents.

About Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline won two first prizes from the national Education Writers Association for her work in 2012 – one in beat reporting for her overall education coverage, and the other in investigative reporting on a series of stories revealing questionable monetary and personnel actions taken by the Board of Regents for Higher Education. In 2016, she was a finalist in the EWA competition for single-topic coverage for her reporting on how schools are funded in Connecticut. Before coming to The Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. She has also worked for Congressional Quarterly and the Toledo Free Press. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College. She and her husband, son and two dogs live in Hartford.