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States Roll Back Support for Childcare as Parents Need it Most

According to the new report, seven states lowered their income eligibility limits last year and 14 kept them the same, despite inflation, meaning that fewer families were able to qualify for help. Even worse, in 23 states the limits were lower than in 2001. Things weren’t necessarily better for those who still qualified, though. Twenty-three states had waiting lists or frozen intake for assistance, up from 22 last year and 21 in 2001, putting too many families in assistance limbo. And even those parents who qualified and made it off the wait lists may have had it bad: in nearly a fifth of all states, families had to pay a higher percentage of their income in co-payments than they did last year.

What does this have to do with unemployment? It sure makes it hard to get a job, let alone get to multiple job interviews, if you can’t afford childcare. Parents are expected to shell out a hefty sum. The pricetag can balloon to as much as $11,700 a year for a four-year-old in full-time center care. In fact, the cost of such care exceeds the median cost of rent in every single state.

This has pushed a lot of mothers to simply stay home. While Ann Romney may talk up her role as a stay-at-home mom, she’s no longer the face of the typical homemaker. As compared to 1979, today’s stay-at-home mothers are younger, less educated, and more likely to be Hispanic, in particular foreign-born. That led the Census to conclude that they may very well be staying out of the workforce because they can’t find work that pays well enough to offset the costs of childcare. It also hits single moms hard: while many families face this huge problem, single mothers have less back-up support if childcare arrangements fall through.

The good news in the report for jobs seekers is that 46 states allowed families to keep receiving childcare assistance while a parent searched for a job – the same number as last year. That means that when you’re out of work, bringing in less income, you can still rely on subsidies while you job hunt. On top of this, 16 allowed families who weren’t already getting support to sign up while a parent searched for a job – although that number has dropped by one since last year. Some states still found a way to cut back, though: since last year, two of them reduced the length of time parents could get the help they needed while job hunting.

The overall picture is one of increased need with even less support than before. So why would states pull back now? The report notes that it is likely due to their having exhausted the federal support that came in as the economy crashed. In 2009, the government gave the states extra money to fund this assistance, and in 2010 the stimulus bill provided even more funding. This, again, makes sense: when people are out of work, they’ll have a harder time paying for childcare – but will still need it just as much to go out and find another job. The problem is that the money has run out while unemployment’s stayed miserably high.

There’s clearly a need for more federal money to support these working families who are desperately trying to scrape by. But the Republicans have only talked of slashing spending, which would almost certainly lead to a cut in this type of program. So keep this in mind as you watch Joe Biden and Paul Ryan square off tonight. It’s about more than who gets a bump in the polls; it’s also about who will help families take care of their children. Things are already getting worse for working parents. More cuts will make life even more difficult.

Bryce Covert


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