Childcare aid increases for low-income families

MONTPELIER — As of Sunday, July 21, childcare subsidies for low-income families in Vermont have increased. This past legislative session, the Legislature added $7.4 million to the Department for Children and Families’ Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP), which provides subsidies to help eligible families pay for childcare.
The increase in CCFAP funding is part of a five-year plan put forward by the Child Development Division of the department. Five million dollars went towards the plan, with $1 million specifically set aside for information system improvements.
Reeva Murphy, Deputy Commissioner for the Child Development Division, sees this initial contribution as a “down payment” on the $12 million the plan is expected to cost by 2022.
The five-year plan entails updating the Department for Children and Families’ technology to restructure the tiered rate system for providers, and instituting a flat co-payment amount based on family size and income for CCFAP.
Murphy sees the increased budget as essential to helping Vermont families access safe and reliable child care. She has found that utilization of childcare services has fallen away over the last several years, and voiced concerns that “instead of using our help, families are looking for unregulated care or cobbling together other solutions.”
Between 2010 and 2017, the average cost of childcare grew 35 percent for pre-school children; meanwhile, state reimbursements grew only 3 percent, and have been stagnant since 2014. With the July 21 increase, fiscal year 2020 state payments are closer to market rates.
About 2,000 families, or over 3,000 preschoolers and 2,500 school children, currently receiving subsidies will get an increase in the amount that they receive, Murphy said.
“CCFAP serves 6,000 families, so one third [of the families] are going to get more of a benefit,” she added.
The challenges of accessing childcare go beyond the finances. “There are limited registered childcare providers in this area. Finding childcare can be just as difficult as paying for it,” said Jane Reilly, subsidy specialist for Mary Johnson Childcare Services in Middlebury.
Reilly believes this is due, in part, to increased rules and regulations and lack of support for prospective providers.
“The state used to have a resource person who helped people become registered and guided them through the process, but they eliminated that position,” Reilly said.
“Our capacity does not seem to meet the need,” Murphy admitted. However, she added, by investing money in the child care system, CCFAP can help “increase the amount of slots available to families and the quality of those slots.”
New rates may also attract new families to CCFAP, who were not able to participate before because of high out-of-pocket costs. That’s an important part of the equation, Murphy explained, because the more families that participate, the more providers can stay in business or open new businesses.
Despite criticisms that the amounts still fall short and should be linked to an annual cost of living increase, Murphy said she has already seen the positive impacts of the increased funds. “We’re already hearing from providers what a relief (the new rates are) for the families they’re working with,” she said.

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