Child care assistance helps ensure that kids are safe so parents can work. Ideally, our child care systems and programs should also help ensure that children are being prepared for K-12 education. Last week, the National Women’s Law Center released a new report looking at state level policies for child care assistance and how the landscape has changed over the past year. Overall, states made some progress in the past year, but there is still much to be done in this critical area.
The majority of child care assistance is funded through the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and states have significant flexibility in the policies they set to utilize this funding. The CCDBG is currently being reauthorized by Congress, and the program may soon receive some important improvements if the bill passes final Congressional approval.
Nebraska was one of only two states that increased income eligibility for child care assistance in 2014, but our eligibility remains among the lowest in the country and well below where it was in 2001. In spite of increases in recent years, Nebraska’s income eligibility level still ranks 43rd in the nation. Even with the increase to 130% of the federal poverty line as directed in LB 507, eligibility will still remain well below 185% of the federal poverty level where it was set until budget cuts in 2001.
Other positive aspects of Nebraska’s program include allowing all eligible families to access assistance without a waiting list and allowing families to access support during job searches. However, Nebraska, like most states around the country, is not setting provider payments high enough to be consistent with market rates. The federal government recommends that rates be set at the 75th percentile of market rates and Nebraska currently sets rates at the 60th percentile. Higher provider payment rates help ensure that more qualified providers will participate in the child care subsidy program.
This report is a reminder that while progress has been made on access to quality affordable child care in Nebraska, we still have a ways to go in ensuring that all parents can leave for work knowing that their children are in a safe environment that is helping to prepare them for the years ahead.