Program changes enable more working families to access child care assistance
BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana Department of Education today announced changes to the eligibility requirements for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), which provides federal funds to help low-income families pay for child care while working or attending school or training. The changes enable more working families in Louisiana to access child care assistance.
The new eligibility requirements, which are effective immediately, state:
• Families who work at least 20 hours a week are now eligible;
• Students enrolled in school or job training full-time, regardless of total hours in class, are eligible; and
• Families of children with special needs who demonstrate 15 hours a week are eligible, as they often face more challenges in sustaining work hours due to the needs of their children.
"The eligibility requirements for an assistance program that provides quality care for children from low-income families must acknowledge the needs of working families," said State Superintendent of Education John White. "These changes not only ensure more working families have access to the assistance they need; it also makes certain that more children are enrolled in programs that will prepare them to begin school."
The policy changes are part of a broader effort by the Department, in collaboration with the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), child care providers, advocates and families, to unify the system of early childhood education and to prepare all children for kindergarten by increasing funding and access to child care statewide.
Previously, families who were working full-time but were not guaranteed 30 hours a week every week could not access child care assistance. That meant they often could not afford stable child care, making it more difficult to go to work or school.
Moreover, the CCAP stipend for most Louisiana families averaged only 28 percent of the amount provided for pre-K programs; low payments also led to low teacher pay, which made it difficult to attract and train trained educators; and families with children in child care would lose payments immediately if a parent lost a job.
"The child care industry is excited about these changes that we expect will allow our child care businesses to better serve Louisiana families in need, enabling parents to work and children to thrive in quality early learning centers," said Jonathan Pearce, president of the Child Care Association of Louisiana.
The state's unusually high eligibility requirements, which were among the most stringent in the nation, along with the reduced funding for the program led to a 60 percent decrease--from 25,000 children to 11,000 children--in the number of families receiving child care subsidy over a five-year period.
To combat this, in August 2015, BESE approved changes to increase the funding to providers and to reduce expensive out-of-pocket costs for working Louisiana families. The plan reduced out-of-pocket costs for families and increased the state's payments to providers. The plan also allowed families to remain eligible for CCAP for at least one year, regardless of changes in work or school status.
The changes in funding, paired with the new eligibility policies, can help "reverse this trend," said Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Policy Institute and member of the statewide Early Childhood Advisory Council, "which means more young children will benefit from high quality care and education that prepares them for kindergarten."
The McCauley family, of New Iberia, is among those who benefit from the change. Kendal McCauley, a mother of three who juggles working and studying economics at South Louisiana Community College, applied for child care assistance for two of her three children in December 2016, but was denied because her schedule did not meet the state's former requirements.
"I was registered in school full-time, and I was working part-time, but it was not enough," McCauley recalled. "I had been a stay-at-home mom for years, and then I went through a divorce. I was on my own with no help. I thought, 'If I can't get child care assistance, I can't go to school. If I can't go to school, I can't live on my own.'"
When she discovered she was eligible under the new policy, she said, she was "elated."
"There's a solid two more years ahead of us before I'm finished with school, so this will really help me, as a single mother of three, during that time," she explained. "I can provide for my family, and I can get an education. And I can show my children, by example, that the world is your oyster and you can do whatever you want as long as you're determined."
Currently, more than 10,000 Louisiana families receive assistance through the program. If the number of families who are eligible for and interested in child care assistance exceeds the number of spots available, as a result of the changes, the Department will establish a waitlist to prioritize families according to need.