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25 for 25: Child Care Subsidies

We are commemorating our 25th Anniversary with 25 posts about our history and accomplishments between now and the Spotlight Gala on September 15.  Join us for a celebration of Voices for Children and all of the organizations, lawmakers, and individuals who have supported our work on behalf of children.  For details, visit voicesforchildren.com/spotlight-gala.

We have mentioned on the blog previously that we are taking a look back at both the good and the bad of the last 25 years, and in spite of our efforts, we can’t count our work on child care subsidies a victory.

Child care is expensive.  Full-time care for an infant in a licensed center can cost over $7,500 per year — more than in-state college tuition.  And child care is important.  So, so important.

Why is it so important?  That answer is two-fold:

1) It helps parents work.  Parents can’t work unless they have a safe and affordable care for their child.

2) Early learning experiences play a significant role in shaping brain development and can impact school success.

In short, child care plays a huge role in the ability of parents to successfully earn an income and in preparing a child for success later in life.  Child care subsidies help make child care more affordable for lower income families and give more families access to licensed care.

A significant loss for the child care subsidy program occurred in 2002 when then-Governor Mike Johanns line item vetoed $4.5 million from child care assistance in order to offset a budget shortfall.  The decision resulted in eligibility for the child care subsidy program being reduced from 185% of the federal poverty level to 120% and over 1,800 low-income children being cut off the program.

In spite of efforts by Voices for Children and others to restore eligibility, a decade later Nebraska’s eligibility remains the same and ranks among the lowest in the nation.

In 2010, the child care subsidy program was again targeted during a budget shortfall when Governor Heineman proposed reducing payment rates to low-income child care providers.  Voices for Children and others advocated against this reduction and a compromise was ultimately reached to make the reduction in payment rates temporary.

The National Institute for Early Education Research ranks Nebraska 38th in the nation on the amount of state resources devoted to early childhood.  While the number of children enrolled in early childhood programs has increased over the past decade, per capita spending has declined.  Further, according to Child Care Aware, we rank 49th in the country on regulation of child care facilities.

We think we can — and must — do better for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. They are our future workers, taxpayers, and innovators.  And yet, we as a state fail to adequately invest in their early years — the years that make the most difference.

We need to improve access and quality in the child care assistance program.  We have good reason to believe that our future depends on it.

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