With a budget hole plugged for now, a child-care subsidy aimed solely at low-income working parents has been restored — easing a burden that had many people worrying how they would remain self-sufficient.
When Care4Kids was closed to new families one year ago, parents across the state, a legion of child-care workers, and advocates for children were stunned that a program that helps the local economy by keeping people employed had become a budget casualty.
State officials had said new federal regulations raised the cost of program beyond what the state could then afford.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said this week that there’s enough money now to reopen a waiting list and immediately resume enrolling families.
The Office of Early Childhood, which runs Care4Kids, said 5,769 households are on the list.
Experience says 60 percent of those families will meet the income ceilings. With an average of 1.5 children per household, it’s likely that 5,192 children will be added to Care4Kids, said Maggie Adair, spokeswoman for the early childhood office.
Adair said parents on the waiting list have begun to receive requests that they submit applications. The state is helping the families apply, she said.
Families with the highest needs are considered first. The program serves nearly 23,000 children each year,
The benefit of the subsidy is clear, said Merrill Gay, executive director of the nonprofit Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance in Hartford.
“It keeps kids out of poverty,” he said.
To qualify for Care4Kids, families can earn up to 50 percent of the state's median household income — $44,601 for a family of three.
Gay said most of the families receiving the subsidy are "on the knife edge of poverty — an accident or an illness away from things falling apart. Losing their child care pulls the rug out from under them."
The amount of the subsidy varies across the state and with the age of the child. A working parent with a toddler in a licensed child-care home in north central Connecticut would receive $10,660 for a year, minus a parent fee that is based on income. The average fee is $102 per month. In southwest Connecticut, the yearly subsidy for the same toddler would be $12,688.
Federal changes designed to improve care for children increased the cost of the program, but the allocations to the states did not increase.
Connecticut receives about $53 million annually from the federal government and spends an additional $69 million a year.
The federal changes guarantee that parents remain in the program for one year, reducing turnover and disruptions in child care. Advocates had been calling for those adjustments — but not without more federal funding.
David Wilkinson, commissioner of the early childhood agency, looks at Care4Kids as a “two-generation program that enables parents to work while providing the piece of mind that their children are safe and in quality care.”
Daniel Long, director of research for Connecticut Voices for Children in New Haven, said "in many towns, Care4Kids is the only child-care subsidy available to low-income families."
While there are other daycare programs for poor families, Care4Kids is the only one "whose main function is to employ parents," Long noted.
Georgia Goldburn, executive director of Hope for New Haven, one of the largest childcare centers in the New Haven area, said 55 percent of the parents whose children attend the center receive a Care4Kids subsidy.