California families who qualify for state-subsidized child care would be guaranteed eligibility for 12 months under a bill working its way through the state Legislature that would bring the state into compliance with federal requirements.
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.
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 bill, AB 2150, authored by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, goes to the state Senate Appropriations Committee Monday. Its potential cost would be $1 million to $5 million a year, as between 2 and 10 percent of children who now are dis-enrolled each year remain in childcare, according to an estimate by the California Department of Education calculated for the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
“It supports continuity as well as job seeking,”said Linda Asato, executive director of the Child Care Resource and Referral Network.
“It’s one small step but a huge impact on a large population that really depends on this service,” Santiago said. He said the Senate Appropriations Committee has estimated a larger fiscal impact and that he is working through the difference with committee members. He would not disclose the larger estimate because the analysis is still in draft form, he said.
The federal government, in reauthorizing the Child Care Development Block Grant in 2014, required that states create 12-month eligibility rules; although California officials have since been considering ways to do that, they have taken no action. Four other bills proposing to alter current requirements have died.
The bill would also allow the state to gradually reduce benefits as a family’s income increases, ending the subsidy when their income reaches 85 percent of the state’s 2007 median income. Under current law, families are cut off immediately once their income hits 70 percent of the 2007 median income – that limit is about $42,000 for a family of three.
“That I think is very important, that there’s no cliff effect,” said Linda Asato, executive director of the Child Care Resource and Referral Network. “It supports continuity as well as job seeking.”
“It happens quite a bit that they lose the benefits,” said Lara Magnusdottir, public policy director at the Community Child Care Council of Sonoma County.
Parents must repeatedly scramble to complete extensive paperwork and work with their employers to verify income, said Lara Magnusdottir, public policy director at the Community Child Care Council of Sonoma County. An application missing a document or containing any other mistake means their child must withdraw from the facility, she said. Parents also are put in the position of having to decide whether to accept wage increases that might eliminate their eligibility but still leave them unable to afford childcare.
“It happens quite a bit that they lose the benefits,” Magnusdottir said. “And there’s a huge portion of low-income people who work in retail or restaurants or support services; they don’t work the same schedule all the time.”
Santiago said, “The ability to take an extra shift, to take on a couple more hours to improve your life, that isn’t there” under the current regulations. He said he grew up in an immigrant family that faced many of the challenges that families who make use of state-subsidized childcare confront.
“It’s a smart step in the right direction,” said Giannina Perez, senior director of early childhood policy at Children Now, an early education and children’s advocacy organization.
“Let’s just make sure that kids and families and employers will know that there’s a guarantee of at least 12 months so kids will know they’re going to see the same teacher every day, so that parents will know, ‘My kid will be in child care all year,’ and that employers know they’re not going to lose employees because they’re scrambling for child care.”
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 programs every six months. That regulation has been eliminated.
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