- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Thousands of Connecticut families will no longer qualify for a child care subsidy, beginning July 1 because of changes to a key federal grant that helps fund the state’s Care4Kids program.

The Office of Early Childhood estimates 4,500 families, representing about 6,100 children, won’t be eligible for funds to offset their child care and afterschool care costs. The state’s program typically serves about 19,000 families annually.

Changes to the federal Child Care Development Block Grant are being blamed for the new eligibility changes. Congress recently made reforms to the block grant program that many advocates support, such as allowing needy parents to keep receiving the subsidy even if their income improves during a year to ensure children receive higher quality, stable care. However, those changes will cost more money, meaning fewer families can now be served.

“In order to meet the new policy requirements of the federal law and live within our means, Connecticut must make changes to Care4Kids or we risk losing federal funding for the program,” said OEC Commissioner Myra Jones-Taylor. “The decision to change income eligibility is a decision the Office of Early Childhood does not take lightly.”

Jones-Taylor is scheduled to testify June 15 before a U.S. Senate committee about the impact of the changes on Connecticut’s program and the state’s need for more federal funds. The changes result in a projected $33 million shortfall.

The program currently costs $113 million annually. The state receives $53 million from the federal block grant program and covers the remainder.

Advocacy groups contend the changes in eligibility will be devastating for working-poor families, whose child care expenses can be the largest household expense, often exceeding housing costs. According to the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, the income eligibility for new families seeking subsidies will change from less than 50 percent to a maximum of 30 percent of the state median income. For a family of three, that means annual household eligibility would be reduced from $44,601 to $26,760.

While the change takes effect on July 1, it will apply to families as they reach their annual anniversary under the Care4Kids program and go through a redetermination process. Those with income levels that exceed the new benchmark will lose their subsidy after a three-month phase-out period.

“This means a lot of families who are barely making ends meet now are put in an awful situation,” said Merrill Gay, executive director of the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance. Advocates also warn that some child care centers will suffer financially from the changes.

The eligibility changes will not apply to current and former Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF recipients, or participants in a program for teen parents, ages 18 and 19. Those groups represent the lowest income households that receive the subsidy.

The Office of Early Childhood is encouraging families that will no longer be eligible for the program to dial 211 to reach a free service that can help parents find child care at state-licensed facilities.

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