Access to affordable quality child care is essential to both ensuring that children are prepared for school and allowing parents to work. In Nebraska, the majority of children under the age of 6 have all available parents in the workforce. This means that the majority of our kids are spending time in some sort of child care arrangement while their parents are at work. Last week, important progress was made on child care with the long overdue reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). This is the first time the program has been updated in almost 20 years.
The new law helps ensure better basic safety standards for providers participating in child care subsidy programs by requiring health and safety training and background checks. One important change will help ensure better stability for children and families by allowing families eligible for child care subsidies to continue to receive them for one year. This will help ensure more stability in caregivers which is important for children and will help minimize unexpected disruptions for parents.
The bill also encourages states to look at the way that we are paying providers participating in the child care subsidy program. On the private market, providers are typically paid for the child care “slot” regardless of absences for things like illnesses. In Nebraska and other states, we pay providers accepting subsidy funds only for the days that children are present, creating a disincentive for many providers to participate in this program.
It is up to Nebraska and other states to maximize the new law to ensure it best meets the needs of our kids and families, but the law itself contains several important improvements that states will be required to implement. We will have significant work to do on ensuring all our kids have access to quality affordable child care, but this bill is a significant step forward and speaks to the growing bipartisan recognition that child care is critical for both working parents and their children.