MIDDLETOWN >> Since she was a child, April Lussier wanted to help others, she said. Happily, it’s something she now is able to do at Change Incorporated in Middletown, where she assists disabled clients, like those impacted by traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease, live successfully in their own homes.
While Lussier works, her 4-year-old son, Toshiro, attends the Community Renewal Team Head Start program, a service possible through Care 4 Kids, a program sponsored by the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood which helps low- to moderate-income families pay their child care bills.
Without that subsidy, Lussier, who lives in Middletown, wouldn’t be able to afford monthly child care that exceeds $500, she said. Without Care 4 Kids, Lussier fears she’d lose her job and soon her home, she said.
“I wouldn’t be able to afford child care or work,” said Lussier, testifying a hearing at the state Capitol last week. The “ripple effect” of losing a child care subsidy could leave someone like Lussier “homeless with my children, or possibly in a shelter, and back to square one looking for resources to survive,” she testified.
Connecticut’s Office of Early Childhood announced changes in program eligibility rules starting Dec. 31, when the Care 4 Kids program will stop taking applications from people who have received benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families within the last five years, and 18- to 19-year-old parents who attend high school or an equivalent program.
The Care 4 Kids program is now unable to serve as many families as it has supported in the past due to new federal policy requirements that increased caseload numbers and longer periods of enrollment for each family, according to CRT.
Last week, the Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, in collaboration with the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, hosted the forum where Lussier joined other parents at the Community Health Center to share views on what the future may hold.
The potential impact of the policy cut is nearly $1.2 million in lost wages for the working poor, according to CRT.
“My kids mean the world to me. I want them to have the best care,” said Lussier, who is also working toward an associate degree. “My job isn’t the highest paying job but at least (her kids) can still go for their dreams.”
Lussier now pays $95 per month for child care and Care 4 Kids pays $419.51 per month, according to Nancy Pappas, director of external affairs for CRT.
And if the subsidy disappears?
“Well, I don’t think I could afford to even work at that point,” said Lussier. “I would have to stay at home until my son started kindergarten and I’d have to find a full-day school program.”
The new change is estimated to impact about 1,800 families who might have applied over the next six months but does not affect families currently receiving a subsidy or who are eligible for redetermination, according to Merrill Gay, director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance.
For low-income parents trying to go back into the workforce, there is no place to get affordable child care, Gay said. “Anyone getting school readiness is going to feel this, anyone who serves infants and toddlers will feel this, and anyone who pays taxes in Connecticut will feel this,” said Judi Kenney, director at Town & Country Early Learning Center on South Main Street. “A lot more families will need state assistance.”
For many small businesses, like Town & Country, the problem is twofold. “We’re already seeing a decline in families enrolling in the center, attributed somewhat to the loss of Care 4 Kids,” Kenney explained.
“The other unfortunate part is we rely on Care 4 Kids for the school readiness program and that is based on three funding sources — one being Care 4 Kids,” she added.
Last year, Town & Country expanded and has a new classroom that now isn’t full, Kenney added. “Now revenue is down and if (the daycare) closes, it doesn’t just impact those who use Care 4 Kids,” Gay said.
In Hamden, Harris and Tucker School “took a big hit” since about 60 percent of children were enrolled with help from Care 4 Kids. “They are definitely worried and are seeing a big hole,” Gay said.
Before these policy changes, the school was growing, “had planned to expand, renovate a new space and hire 20 staff,” Gay said.
Led by state Rep. Catherine Abercrombie, D-Meriden, co-chairwoman of the Human Services Committee, legislators will meet Tuesday “to find a solution to the problem,” said Gay. “We need $35 million to make Care 4 Kids whole going into the new fiscal year.”
“It’s hugely painful, the notion that anything gets an increase,” she explained. “It’s hard.”
Earlier, federal changes “have made the program more expensive per child and the OEC must take steps to mitigate this increased cost,” said Linda Goodman, acting OEC commissioner, in a CRT press release.
In Connecticut, the main drivers of the cost increase are: a shift from an eight-month to a 12-month eligibility redetermination, the extension of the subsidy during a three-month job search if an enrolled parent loses employment, and an increase in number of families enrolled in the program, according to CRT.
The OEC is maintaining a wait list for parents who apply for Care 4 Kids and those who are also no longer eligible due to the changes in eligibility requirements. Other child care programs may be available to children no longer eligible for Care 4 Kids. The OEC encourages families to call 2-1-1 Child Care weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for information.
At least 376 children under the age of 5 would lose their early learning opportunity at CRT that comes with access to fresh, healthy meals and medical screenings, the organization says. CRT estimates it would have to close 13 preschool classrooms and six infant/toddler rooms due to the impact of reductions, possibly leading to a loss of nearly 50 CRT staff positions.
“I don’t want families to have to struggle or do things they don’t want to do just to have child care,” Lussier said.
“The state does a lot of important things,” said Gay. “As we weigh what we have to do, we have to focus on keeping a child out of poverty.”
The obvious, best way to achieve that goal is to allow their parents to earn a living, Gay concluded.
Complete information about the Care 4 Kids program is available at ctcare4kids.com.