By Carol Gundlach
Subsidized quality child care is an investment in Alabama’s families and its workforce. Parents who struggle to make ends meet are more likely to find and keep stable employment when they can access affordable child care. And children receiving high quality care get the early education they need to succeed later in school and in life.
U.S. Sens. Doug Jones and Richard Shelby should remember those facts when they return to Washington after Labor Day. The Senate must vote on several bills to fund the federal government in 2020, including one that would boost child care investments. Jones, Shelby and other members of Congress should build on the progress made since 2017 by strengthening support for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG).
Every parent of young children knows how expensive quality child care can be. The costs are particularly stressful for working parents with low wages, who may spend 30% or more of their income on child care. In 2017, Alabama parents on average paid more than $5,600 a year for infant care and nearly $4,900 a year for care for a 4-year-old. For many families, it’s a struggle to pay for child care and still afford food, housing, utilities and other necessities.
Subsidies that offset some of the costs of child care can really help struggling families make ends meet. In Alabama and in much of the rest of the nation, the CCDBG is the largest source of funding for subsidized child care. Children living in families with incomes below 130% of the federal poverty level (just under $28,000 for a family of three) are potentially eligible to receive subsidized care that costs parents $50 or less per week.
With federal help, Alabama has made progress since 2017 on lifting barriers for families who struggle to afford child care. The state’s discretionary CCDGB funding jumped from $53.2 million in 2017 to $93.9 million in 2018 – a nearly 77% increase.
The resulting gains for Alabama families have been enormously important, as an Alabama Arise report detailed this summer. Using those new dollars, the Department of Human Resources (DHR) eliminated the previously long waiting list for child care assistance. It significantly increased the rates paid to providers who care for young children. And it expanded education assistance for child care workers who want to pursue training in early childhood education.
Alabama has done well with the additional child care funding, but many families remain unserved. DHR now provides subsidies for nearly 42,000 children, about 9% more than two years ago. But nearly 100,000 more Alabama children live in families who are income-eligible for subsidized child care but don’t receive it. Additional federal investment in child care would help more parents enter the workforce.
This stronger investment also would help combat the lingering problem of low pay for child care workers. Alabama still pays child care centers less than the federally recommended minimum, even after the reimbursement rate increased. And child care providers are still among the lowest paid workers in the country, averaging less than $9 per hour. If Alabama wants to retain more high-quality child care workers, we need to pay them a living wage.
The House already passed an appropriation bill with a significant CCDBG funding increase. Once the Senate returns from its August recess, it should move quickly to do the same.
Increased investment in child care will reduce poverty, support working parents and help Alabama’s children grow and thrive. Jones and Shelby should commit to this needed investment in our state’s economy, families and future prosperity.
Carol Gundlach is a policy analyst at Alabama Arise, a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of congregations, organizations and individuals promoting public policies to improve the lives of low-income Alabamians. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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