Lawmakers vowed to find the funding needed to restore state-funded childcare benefits as providers and recipients gathered to discuss the impact of cuts.
Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, a member of the Appropriations Committee and co-chairwoman of the Human Services Committee, was among a handful of elected officials who said they’ll find a way to reopen benefits under the Care 4 Kids program while still balancing the Office of Early Childhood’s budget.
“The reality is we need to figure out how we’re going to keep this program at the level it is,” she said at the start of a forum on Wednesday at the Legislative Office Building hosted by the Commission on Women, Children, and Seniors. “I can tell you from the legislature’s point of view, it’s not an option not to fully fund this program.”
The OEC announced in late November that, as of Dec. 31, it would stop taking applications for the Care 4 Kids program from certain families who received benefits in the last five years, and from 18- and 19-year old parents who are currently enrolled in high school or other secondary education.
The change, which is expected to impact roughly 1,800 families, was made to address a $5.4 million budget deficit in the program. OEC also stopped taking applications as of Aug. 1 for families who earned less than 50 percent of the median income — roughly $40,000 for a family of three, including a single parent of two children.
During the forum, parents and child care providers said the program helps parents who can’t afford to send their children to daycare centers. As a result, parents warned that they may have to work less, or stop altogether, to ensure their children have care, while daycare providers said they will lose revenue.
Acting Commissioner Lisa Goodman said in a November statement announcing the eligibility change that cost drivers include an extension in the eligibility period from eight months to 12 months and increased subsidies during a three-month job search period. There has also been an increase in the number of families enrolled in the program, she said.
Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam suggested other factors, including cost increases built into contracts, have played a factor in the deficit.
“If we’re going to talk about this, then I think we need to talk about all of the different issues and I think in order to solve the problem, everything has to be on the table,” she said.
Abercrombie said a working group of politicians from both parties will begin as soon as next week to look for alternatives.
Three women, two who receive Care 4 Kids benefits and one on the waiting list, talked about the need for child care as they try to make ends meet.
Shadae Evans works at a New Haven daycare center but said she can’t afford child care for her own young son, and expressed concern that his development is affected by a lack of access to preschool instruction.
“It just hurts my heart to know that he could be delayed because he’s just going from house to house. I know the quality care that a kid needs to survive — he’s not learning the basic needs,” she said.
A handful of providers, meanwhile, said the Care 4 Kids program makes up a sizeable portion of their revenue, including larger daycare centers, and that reducing or eliminating benefits means they could have to shut down.
Stanley McMillen, a professor of economics at Trinity, said a 2004 study found that licensed daycare centers employed roughly 15,000 people at that time, paying approximately $324 million in wages. He also said the study found those centers spent $460 million on goods and services from suppliers.
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