Getting DC Back to Work Also Means Making Child Care More Affordable

Cross-Posted from The District’s Dime
by Soumya Bhat

A new national report confirms what most DC parents already know: Child care in the District is expensive, especially compared to the rest of the nation. So as Mayor Gray and the DC Council look to reduce unemployment and get more moms and dads back to work, our leaders also need to factor in how to make child care affordable and accessible to low-and-moderate income parents.

One important way to do that in to DC is to update the reimbursement rates for the city’s child care subsidy programs to better reflect our competitive child care market. The current low reimbursement rates mean that parents sometimes have a hard time finding a child care center that will accept their child care voucher and that many centers that rely on children with vouchers are struggling to keep their doors open and provide quality services. A better reimbursement rate would allow parents of all income levels to have the opportunity to put their children in a safe, healthy and productive facility.

The report by Child Care Aware of America, a national source of child care information for parents and providers, highlights some of the financial struggles that many DC parents face. For example, in 2011, the average cost of full-time care for an infant in a DC child care center was more than $20,000 a year. That is roughly 80 percent of median income for a single mother in DC. If she has two children in child care, expenses can be as much $35,000, which is nearly twice the annual income for a family of three at the poverty line.[1]

In the District, a major barrier to providing high-quality child care to infants and toddlers is the extremely low reimbursement rates paid to child care providers in the city’s child care program. Unfortunately, DC child care reimbursement rates are pegged to 2004 child care costs. Without adequate reimbursement, providers are unable to keep up with their rising costs and continue to offer quality child care in DC. The fiscal year 2013 budget did not increase reimbursement rates for child care providers, many of which offer primarily infant and toddler care and faced financial challenges in recent years.

Another factor is that the city has put fewer resources into child care as the public education system has moved toward universal pre-kindergarten. Since the District began implementing universal pre-K in 2009, parents can choose to send three- and four-year old children to pre-K in public schools. While this was a good move for DC education, an unfortunate side effect has been a steady decline in local funding for the child care subsidy program.

As a result, several child care providers have closed their doors. According to the 2010 DC market rate survey, about 30 percent of all family home providers and 17 percent of all child care center providers operating in 2008 were no longer in business in 2010. This leads to a shortage of child care providers for families with infants and toddlers and children with special needs.

DCFPI thinks it’s time to revisit these policies and help make quality child care more affordable for DC families.

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