Georgia officials are considering a plan for child care assistance that proposes improvements that can help families, but still doesn’t include enough money to fulfill its promise.
This week, the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute submitted comments on Georgia’s Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) proposal for the federal budget years 2019 through 2021. The draft plan details ways that the state will provide quality care to low-income families. Georgia’s child care assistance program, also known as the Child and Parent Services program, is federally authorized. Stronger child care assistance policies are crucial to support thriving families and for Georgia to achieve People Powered Prosperity.
Despite some noteworthy improvements, the plan still falls short of what all Georgia parents and children truly need to thrive. Providing adequate funding to fully implement improvements to the program remains in question, among other concerns for eligibility.
The proposal does demonstrate an improved approach to child care assistance in Georgia and signals a clear commitment to improve access for low income families who find that affordable child care is often out of reach, especially for working parents. Due to funding restrictions, only about one in 10 children who qualify can access child care assistance. The high cost of child care squeezes the household budgets of parents who need to work to support their families. In 2017, the average annual cost of center-based child care for an infant in Georgia was $7,769. The average cost was $4,630 for a school-aged child. To improve access, the plan:
- Reinforces a graduated phase-out of assistance to help minimize the cliff effect for families who increase their earnings while they get help. This motivates families to earn higher salaries and build a savings cushion for the long-term without the immediate fear of losing child care assistance.
- Adds participation in an associate degree program as a qualifying education activity. In current the policy, college student parents are prohibited from accessing child care assistance through the program. Helping college students better afford child care can help boost Georgia’s workforce and economy.
However, the shortcomings and oversights include a lack of money, income eligibility that’s too low and limitations on college student eligibility.:
No new state money is included in the Georgia budget that begins July 1, 2018 to pay for the cost of these changes. That means the department’s budget for the program will be stretched to accommodate parents who increase their incomes while receiving assistance, as well as a new category of student parents.
The state’s child care assistance program still needs an ambitious funding increase to ensure that all Georgia parents with children under four years old can afford high-quality, center-based child care.
The plan maintains the income threshold at 50 percent of state median income, which limits access to quality child care. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the state’s threshold is already more restrictive than in 39 other states. A Georgia family of three must earn less than $29,677 per year to enter into the child care assistance program. The federal government allows states to raise income thresholds to a maximum 85 percent of median income, which amounts to about $50,000 for a family of three in Georgia.
During the GBPI people-first statewide listening tours, parents said restrictive income eligibility limits are a persistent barrier. A family of three must typically earn at least $50,000 per year to meet basic needs, including child care. An increase of Georgia’s eligibility threshold will help families who earn more than the current limits allow but less than what it takes to meet their basic needs and also access quality child care.
The state plan proposes to add an associate’s degree as an education activity to qualify for child care assistance. Single parents represent about one in 12 students enrolled in the Technical College System of Georgia. This expansion is a positive step to ensure student parents increase their chance at economic mobility by completing a degree. Still, this provision would only apply to student parents who fall within the agency’s eleven priority groups. Student parents are not a free-standing priority group, but the need for child care among this group is great. Parents are one of the fastest growing student sub groups in colleges today. Thousands of Georgia students who are parents stand to gain if they are counted as a priority group and if the education criteria is broadened to include bachelor’s degrees.
Evidence shows that parents who receive child care assistance experience fewer work disruptions, work more hours, stay employed for longer periods, and enjoy higher family earnings. Child care assistance also frees up time for unemployed parents to work. And children as young as infants who spend time in quality child care gain economic, social, and health benefits that extend well into adulthood.
Raising the income eligibility threshold can help more parents working their way to the middle class climb the ladder. Georgia will gain a stronger workforce and economy if the state includes parents who rear children and attend college as a standalone priority group. These changes will make quality child care more affordable and accessible for all Georgia families, and power a more prosperous state in the process.