A new report examining statewide child care policies recognizes Kentucky as one of 31 states that has improved on key policies, yet finds that too many families nationwide are not receiving the help they need to thrive.
The need for a better child care infrastructure to support working families is drawing attention from both presidential candidates, and there’s good reason. Simply put, child care helps children, families, and communities prosper. High quality child care gives children the opportunity to learn and develop skills that will help them succeed academically and socially. It gives parents the support they need to be able to work and earn a living, knowing that their child is in a safe setting. And it helps Kentucky’s economy by supporting our current workforce and giving our future workforce a strong foot forward.
Given the importance of child care assistance, it’s vital for states to have strong child care assistance policies in place. Red Light Green Light: State Child Care Assistance Policies 2016 examines the subsidy programs that help low-income families pay for child care in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The authors find that while more states saw improvement, there is uneven and insufficient progress on policies throughout the country.
Here are a few highlights for Kentucky:
Kentucky was one of four states that increased income eligibility limits by a dollar amount that exceeded inflation between 2015 and 2016 for child care assistance. The Governor and General Assembly included money in the budget to raise the limit to $33,264 (160 percent of the federal poverty level) this past September. This means that more parents will be able to access the assistance and enter the workforce, or improve their educational levels. Yet we know that in order to be self-sufficient, families need to earn 200 percent of the federal poverty level. We need to continue to increase eligibility levels in order to ensure that all parents who need the support can access it.
Kentucky was one of 18 states that increased reimbursement rates for child care providers who accept child care subsidies. When rates are set too low, it undermines providers’ ability to maintain their business, attract and retain qualified staff by paying them adequate wages, and provide equipment and materials needed to create a good learning environment. Kentucky increased rates by $1 per day for all providers, which is a solid step in the right direction. However, we still reimburse providers well below national guidelines and need to continue to increase the rates so that high quality providers will be able to keep their doors open and choose to accept the subsidy.
Despite improvements nationwide, the report underscores a troubling trend – significantly fewer families are receiving child care assistance than 15 years ago, despite there being higher numbers of children in low-income families. They assert that far too many children in low-income families are not receiving the help they need, with fewer than one in six children eligible for child care assistance receiving it.
We need the continued attention of Kentucky’s leaders and commitment to make significant increases in federal and state funding for child care assistance. With greater investments, more children can have the early learning opportunities they need, more parents can go to work knowing their children are safe and in a good learning environment, and our state can have the strong workforce that will help our economy thrive.