A California Assembly bill that would guarantee that families who qualify for state-subsidized child care are eligible for a full year has stalled in the state Senate over major differences about how much it would cost the state.

Under current state law, families in California’s publicly funded preschool and childcare programs for low-income children must report within five days any changes in income, family size, employment, school enrollment or address in order to stay in the program – a process that often requires extensive documentation that must be turned in in person. The proposed law would require that families re-establish eligibility once a year.

The California Department of Education had estimated that AB 2150, authored by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, would cost the state an extra $1 million to $5 million a year because children who are now dis-enrolled from child care will remain eligible. However, the state Department of Finance estimated that AB 2150 could cost the state as much as $30 million a year.

“It was a policy choice at the federal level to say we believe continuity is a priority. We are all arguing that the state needs to make the same policy decision,” said Erin Gabel, deputy director of First Five California.

AB 2150 could advance on Thursday, if Santiago and the Senate Appropriations Committee agree on a cost estimate by then. If not, it will likely die in committee, as have four other bills before it.

Santiago wouldn’t comment on Tuesday.

Under AB 2150, families who qualify for state-subsidized child are would be guaranteed eligibility for 12 months, regardless of changes in income or family size. The bill would also allow families to receive subsidies until their income reaches 85 percent of the state’s median 2007 income. The current limit is 70 percent.

Parents who work a variable schedule – one in which hours can change weekly – must re-establish their eligibility every four months. Childcare and family advocates have long urged legislators to change those requirements. There are about 270,000 children in the state-funded programs.

The federal government, in reauthorizing the Child Care Development Block Grant in 2014, required that states create 12-month eligibility rules, something California has failed to do. Advocates have been calling for the eligibility requirements to be changed, saying that parents, children and providers benefit from knowing that a child will be in care for at least 12 months.

“It was a policy choice at the federal level to say we believe continuity is a priority,” said Erin Gabel, deputy director of First Five California, which advocates for children and early education. “We are all arguing that the state needs to make the same policy decision.”

She said one reason for the difference in the cost estimates is that there is no single data system that tracks how many children leave the state-subsidized system and for what reasons.

“So each estimate is taking into account different assumptions and data sets,” she said.

Correction: Under a previous version of the law, only guardians of children in the care of Child Protective Services were required to re-certify their eligibility for California-funded preschool or childcare every six months. That regulation has been eliminated.

Clarification: The California Department of Finance estimated that AB 2150 could cost the state as much as $30 million.

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