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Child care subsidy rules changing under N.C. budget

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About 12,000 kids statewide will no longer get reduced-cost child care under the new state budget that Gov. Pat McCrory says he will sign this week.

The budget legislators approved late last week will tighten the income eligibility requirements for the child care program, reserving the subsidies for younger and poorer kids. Some families will also have to make higher copayments to participate.

The savings the state gets from cutting back who is eligible and charging higher copays will go toward paying child care centers more for their services and moving some children off the waiting list for a subsidy.

The Guilford County Department of Social Services was unsure how many families will lose child care subsidies after the new policies take effect Oct. 1.

About 4,800 children in Guilford County take part in the program. Another 1,638 are on the waiting list.

“It makes it harder for moderate-income families to afford child care for their children,” said Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford), who voted against the state budget bill in part because of the changes.

“Their families will have to make choices between whether I can pay this cost, so I can go to work or should I put this child in an unsafe environment,” Robinson said.

The child care program, which is financed with state and federal money, serves about 110,000 children a year across North Carolina, according to the state. That includes everything from day care for infants to after-school programs for older children.

Families qualify to participate based on how much they earn. Families make a copayment of 8 percent to 10 percent toward the cost of care, and they will continue to pay that rate until their eligibility is reviewed under the new income guidelines.

In Guilford County last fiscal year, the program paid an average of $381 a month per child, according to the Department of Social Services.

The new state budget doesn’t cut the overall funding for the program, but it does shift around the costs, in part to provide higher payments to child care providers. The new guidelines will further limit which families qualify for the subsidy — especially for school-age children.

Under the current program guidelines, a family of four can earn up to $50,244 a year and be eligible for the subsidy for all their children under 13. Under the new guidelines, a family can earn up to $47,700 for children 5 and younger to qualify. For children 6 to 12 to get the subsidy, a family must earn less than $31,721 a year.

The costs for larger families also will increase under the new system. All families will have a copay of 10 percent, instead of the 8 percent or 9 percent some larger families now pay.

“It is going to impact families, working parents, and they are going to have to look at alternatives,” said Joyce Fairley, the director of the Regional Child Care Resources & Referral Program at Guilford Child Development.

The General Assembly’s fiscal research division estimates that 1,000 children statewide will come off the waiting list in the next year. About 4,000 kids will move off the waiting list once the policy changes are fully in effect.

Child care centers will get a 25 percent increase in what the state pays them for their service, under the new budget.

Payments to child care centers haven’t increased since 2007, according to Fairley.

Fairley urged parents — of any income level — who need help finding child care to contact counselors at Guilford Child Development.

Contact Amanda Lehmert at (336) 373-7075, and follow @alehmert_NR on Twitter.

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