An Anti-Poverty Idea: Subsidized Child Care for Low-Income Parents

Well it’s the new legislative session in Minnesota, and I’ve got to say, I’m feeling pretty excited about it. I’ve seen many bills introduced that would work to reduce poverty here in Minnesota, including several addressing the foreclosure crisis (one would declare a moratorium on foreclosures!) and a few others that would raise the minimum wage. I am also on the look-out for a bill to end marriage inequality here in Minnesota—Minnesotans United appears to be leading that charge.

Child Care Assistance Program in Minnesota

Full disclosure: I have been on the Basic Sliding Fee (BSF) program for child care in Minnesota for almost three years.

Minnesota has a program generally referred to as the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) whereby eligible low-income families receive subsidized child care so the parents can work, look for work, or attend school/training. There are three ways in which parents can receive this funding:

  • Via Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), Minnesota’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Technically, all families are supposed to receive child care assistance while receiving MFIP funds.
  • Via MFIP’s Transition-Year program, when MFIP participants are transitioning off MFIP. These participants are also supposed to receive child care assistance.
  • Via the Basic Sliding Fee (BSF) program, for those who earn too much money to be eligible for MFIP but whose incomes are still too low to adequately pay for child care. This program has really long waiting lists for most areas of Minnesota and yet struggles to receive funding each year. (I waited 1.5 years to receive assistance.)

An important note about the CCAP is that the benefits are directly linked to the parents’ work or education activity, meaning that if the parents mess up, the assistance is lost, and the child is removed from the daycare. This has negative implications for the children involved—but that’s another story.

There are many rules, regulations, and restrictions found in the statutes for this program (Chapter 119B, if you’re curious). The CCAP policy manual is 350 pages long. It’s kind of hard to keep up with rule changes and when the paperwork is due and when copays change. All of this happens frequently.

Last year

Last legislative session in Minnesota, the legislature opted to reduce the number of absent days a child could incur while receiving CCAP funds (Article 1, Sec. 9, of Ch. 9 in 2011 session laws). This includes absences due to child/parent/sibling illness in addition to vacations and personal holidays. Previously it had been 25 days for the year or more than ten consecutive days, excluding documented medical conditions of child/parent/sibling; the legislature reduced it to just 10 days per year without the exemption.

Limiting the number of days a child can be absent means that parents are responsible for covering the cost of child care should the child miss days beyond the 10-day limit. One day at my children’s daycare adds up to $166 for me ($86 for my toddler, $80 for my preschooler); for just one infant, it’s $101/day. It can get costly for in-home daycares as well; in my experience, one preschool-age child is between $30 and $40 per day.

Basically, the legislature decided to punish families for getting sick.

Legislature: “Hey poor parents! Not only will you have to miss more work, possibly not get paid since you probably don’t have paid sick or personal leave, and maybe even lose your job, but you’ll also have to pay your daycare provider to stay home with your kid! Even though we know you don’t really have the money to do that. We recommend you stop getting sick. Good luck.”

But there’s some hope!

A bill has been introduced that would pretty much reinstate the conditions from the 2010 statutes while maintaining a paragraph from 2012 session laws (Article 3, Sec. 1, Ch. 247) related to children of parents who are in school:

  • Absent day limits changed from just 10 per year to 25 per year or more than ten consecutive full-day absent days.
  • Children with documented medical conditions that cause more frequent absences would again be exempt from the absent day limit.
  • Child absences due to a parent’s or sibling’s documented medical condition would no longer count against the absent day limit (provided the child lives with said parent or sibling).

So I’m excited. I think this is a step in the right direction. It would be really neat if we could also require employers to provide some paid sick days to their employees and job protection in the face of illness, regardless of the size and type of employer. I do realize this is asking a lot. But a mother shouldn’t be stressed about losing her job because her baby is sick and needs to stay home from daycare. We invest in families and the future when we care about the parents.


One thought on “An Anti-Poverty Idea: Subsidized Child Care for Low-Income Parents

  1. I would really like to see some young mothers take up the fight again regarding child care subsidy. I was a young Mom in 1990 or so and we started a group called “City Parents United” which organized training sessions to educate parents on what was available and how the system worked as well as lobbied the legislature. We worked with Senator Wellstone and the first year had the budget jump from $1 mill a year to $20 mill a year. Congress understood then, that childcare help is a temporary way to help parents. It teaches the children that parents work and go to school and does not support tendencies that came with AFDC/TANF.

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