This week both the Assembly and Senate budget subcommittees focusing on education and health and human services will hold joint hearings to discuss the state’s child care and development system. We’ve written extensively in the past on our blog and in published reports about how important this system is for California’s low- and moderate-income working families. Access to subsidized child care and development programs is vital to the economic security of many of these families and also helps improve children’s educational achievement and future prospects in life.
Subsidized child care offered through California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs), the state’s welfare-to-work program, is an integral component of the state’s child care and development system. Any family fully participating in CalWORKs can utilize child care from a provider of their choice. Families may even continue to receive child care assistance after leaving CalWORKs, as long as their income does not exceed the income eligibility limit ($42,216 for a family of three). This benefit is instrumental in helping families move out of poverty toward self-sufficiency.
Unfortunately, state policymakers in recent years made a number of changes to CalWORKs child care that has led to a sizeable drop in enrollment. While many of these changes have been phased out or reversed, enrollment has not recovered, raising some critical questions about how the state can boost utilization of this program. From 2007-08 to 2013-14, the most recent year for which actual data are available, the average enrollment in CalWORKs child care decreased by nearly 40 percent — that’s 70,000 fewer children on average in just six years. However, the CalWORKs average caseload actually increased by 18 percent in that same time period.
Subsidized child care is critical for CalWORKs families as they work hard to attain self-sufficiency. Yet, many families in CalWORKs aren’t utilizing this benefit. As policymakers discuss how to improve the CalWORKs program this week and in the coming months, it is critical that they consider how best to boost families’ access to and utilization of subsidized child care. Be sure to tune into the Assembly and Senate budget subcommittee joint hearings to learn more about California’s child care and development system and the policy choices that legislators are considering in this year’s budget deliberations.
— Kristin Schumacher