States Continue Large Investments In Child Care
By Clare Nolan, Senior Writer
As states remodel their welfare systems and budget leftover federal funds -- the aggregate totals billions of dollars --they continue to pour the bulk of their resources into child care.
Every state has acknowledged that the millions of single mothers leaving the welfare rolls for work need someone to watch their young children. Many states are also making an effort to extend help to the millions of other parents who earn too little to afford child care, but have never relied on welfare.
Added to those concerns is a growing appreciation among governors and state legislators for the value of quality child care and early education.
According to the Children's Defense Fund, 45 states decided last year to increase their spending on child care. As well as extending their programs to more kids, the states also turned their attention to boosting quality.
The Children's Defense Fund, a left-leaning advocacy group for low-income families, has released a report that details state action on child care in 1999. Most states chose to tap their unspent federal welfare dollars , but 17 states also kicked in money from their own coffers. They are Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Still, CDF argues more is needed. "No state has provided sufficient funding to support quality care and parent/child-friendly policies for all low-income families," the report says.
Among developments CDF found most promising:
- Delaware increased funding by $2 million in 1999, primarily to expand services to more families. Parents earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, $17,050 for a couple with two children, are now eligible for child care assistance.
- Florida increased state funding for child care by $37 million last year. It also began an ambitious program to coordinate child care at the state and local level. Local coalitions will develop plans for their communities and draft budgets based on existing funding sources that the state will review and approve.
- Illinois increased its funding for child care in 1999 by $84 million. It also boosted funding for pre-kindergarten by 12 percent.
- Maine enacted a comprehensive child care law that will double state spending on child care to $11 million by 2002. In the first year, most of the new money will be used to improve the quality of care in the state.
- New York tapped its welfare surplus to the tune of $120 million for child care funding, which will provide care for an additional 13,000 children. It also increased its own investment in child care by $60 million.
- North Carolina, which already has an ambitious early childhood program called Smart Start, enacted a program in 1999 to improve the quality of child care. The state will now offer bonuses to child care workers who earn bachelor's degrees and it has started a fund to subsidize the costs of health insurance for child care workers. It also appropriated nearly $438 million for Smart Start over the next two years, a $58 million increase.
- South Carolina allocated $20 million to a First Steps To School Readiness Program that will draft plans for comprehensive child care services in local areas.
- Wisconsin's 1999 biennial budget doubled spending on quality improvements and increased the subsidies available for families. Wisconsin now offers health insurance and child care assistance for working families up to 185 percent of poverty.