State expands child care subsidy eligibility

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

Updated: June 7, 2012, 7:12 PM

 

The state Department of Early Learning has expanded eligibility for child care subsidies designed to help low-income parents stay employed.

Effective July 1, parents with incomes at 200 percent of the federal poverty level may qualify for the subsidy, known as the Working Connections program. That equates to monthly income of $3,182 or less for a family of three. Previously, eligibility had been restricted to parents at 175 percent of poverty level since October 2010 due to state budget cuts. About 2,500 families lost benefits, said Amy Blondin, DEL government and community relations manager.

"The impetus for these changes to child care subsidy policy was the 2012 Legislature," Blondin said.

Lack of participation in the program spurred state lawmakers to expand the eligibility, said Kara Klotz, DEL communications manager.

"Participation was lower than expected (under the 175 percent of poverty level guidelines)," Klotz said. "We don't know why."

Another change, also effective July, extends subsidy authorization to 12 consecutive months. Previously, families were authorized for no more than six months of the subsidy at a time but could seek reauthorization.

"Basically, (the longer period) is about providing stability in child care for low-income working families, which we know is good for kids," Blondin said.

A third change, effective Thursday, removes a requirement that subsidy recipients cooperate with child support enforcement. The requirement had been in effect since July 2011.

"Anecdotally, this law had a chilling effect on families applying for child care subsidies," Blondin explained.

About 22,000 households statewide receive the child care subsidy. More than 10 percent, or about 2,534 of the households, are in Clark County, Klotz said. The program is capped at 33,000 households to control costs.