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Policy & Research INSIGHTS

Having it all? Many working poor parents don't even have child care

by Diana Scholl -  7/23/2012

The debate about if working mothers can “have it all” has reared its head again in recent weeks. But for many low-income parents, raising children and maintaining a job isn’t merely a question of work-life balance.

According to Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness’s latest brief “Little Room to Play: How Changes to City Child-Care Policies Reduce Opportunities for Working Families,” New York City has decreased the number of child-care subsidies by 19% from 2006 to 2012.  And a 2010 study found that approximately 25% of New York City parents who were eligible for child-care subsidies, but did not receive them were unemployed, and lack of child care was a contributing factor to their unemployment.

Federal law requires that all families on public assistance receive child-care subsidies. However, no such protection is in place for the working poor who are not on public assistance. The ICPH brief found that this year so far, only 37% of child-care subsidies have gone to low-income working families not on public assistance who earn below 200% of the poverty line and, down from 64% in 2002. At the same time, co-pays increased 400% for these families.



Figure 2

*Capacity for Fiscal Year 2012 is through January 2012.

Note: Low-income working families earn wages placing them between 100% and 200% of the federal poverty level and typically are not eligible for PA. One-third (33%) of ACS child-care subsidies go to school-age children (five to twelve years in age) for after-school care. The remaining two-thirds (67%) are for children under the age of five.

Sources: New York City Independent Budget Office, City’s Subsidized Child Care System Faces Rising Costs, Shrinking Funds, 2010; City of New York, Mayor’s Management Report Fiscal 2011; New York City Administration for Children’s Services, ACS Monthly Flash Indicators Report, January 2011; New York City Administration for Children’s Services, EarlyLearn Request for Proposals, May 2011.



Unfortunately, the situation is only expected to get worse. In October, New York City will implement EarlyLearn NYC, an attempt to bring high-quality educational standards to child care.  If the program achieves its goals, this is great news for the children who will benefit, since high-quality early education sets children up for higher educational and professional attainment down the road. But it will also make child care more expensive.

In Mayor Bloomberg’s original budget proposal fiscal year 2013, the number of child-care slots were cut to make room for the increased cost of EarlyLearn. After advocates, parents and child-care providers vociferously complained, the Mayor and City Council restored funding for these spots. But this was a short-term solution, and we’ll likely see the same battle play out during budget season next year.

ICPH suggests New York should delay the implementation of EarlyLearn until it can ensure that it will be able to make a permanent commitment to affordable child care. The brief also suggests New York State follow the lead of 25 states and exempt parents on public assistance for a work requirement for the first year of a child’s life. This would redirect about $16.4 million in subsidies to other working families.

What are your ideas? Read the brief, and let us know your thoughts.

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