No Shortage of Ideas for Better, More Affordable Child Care

Cross-posted from Poverty & Policy
Written by Kathryn Baer

I’m on somewhat of a tear about high-quality, affordable child care, as you who follow this blog know. That’s in part because I’ve discovered so much that I didn’t know and felt an urge to share.

So I’ve dealt with the extraordinarily high costs of unsubsidized care and the barrier that poses to low-income families. And I’ve dealt with quality standards and related factors.

In both posts, I’ve dwelt on money — or more precisely, lack of enough to give all low-income children, especially infants and toddlers the high-quality care they need when their parents need them to have it.

So time now to look beyond the defects to policy solutions. We’ve got a range, as I’ve already said.

DCCHILDCAREOne focuses strictly on what childcare workers get paid — an aspect of quality, for several reasons I’ve already tried to capture. The Fight for $15 campaign has broadened its original fast-food base by recruiting childcare workers. They too are speaking out for that increase in the minimum wage.

Sad to say, a victory would probably increase average earnings for childcare workers nationwide and in the District of Columbia, though the conventional phase-in for increases makes it hard to be sure.

The District may have a $15 minimum wage in 2020 — the last phase-in year set by what could be on the November ballot and by a bill the Mayor has sent to the DC Council. If it were effective now, it would increase the average childcare work wage.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute and DC Appleseed want the District to do something that would enable childcare providers to raise workers’ wages sooner and apparently higher, without cutting back on subsidized slots or spending less on other program quality components, e.g., educational materials, professional development.

The partners recommend increasing reimbursement rates for providers that care for children with subsidies. The measure they use for shortfalls, though not necessarily for their recommendation is 75% of what providers charge for unsubsidized care.

This is what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has long recommended. Not, however, to great effect. Only one state reimbursed at about this level last year — significantly fewer than in 2001.

One can readily infer that public funding hasn’t kept pace with need. What we know for sure is that total federal funding in 2014 dropped to its lowest level in twelve years.

Yet states and the District face a further potential cost crunch now that Congress has revamped the Child Care and Development Block Grant — the single largest source of federal funds for programs that serve poor and near-poor families.

CLASP and the National Women’s Law Center suggest that it needs more funding, even for states and the District to serve as many eligible children as they have at the same subsidy rates because they’ll have to spend more to meet the new requirements, including larger quality investments.

Continue reading No Shortage of Ideas for Better, More Affordable Child Care

DC’s Budget Season All Wrapped Up

DC-Flag_DC-MoneyBudget season is over. The process takes several months starting with a budget proposed by Mayor Vincent Gray, then hearings in which members of the public comment on the mayor’s proposed budget, an amended budget proposed by members of the city council, a contingency list of items that the Mayor would like to fund but isn’t sure we can afford, etc. Finally, last Wednesday, June 26, 2014 the DC City Council took their final vote on DC’s budget for fiscal year 2014, deciding on behalf of the residents of the District of Columbia how to spend our tax dollars.

As part of Grassroots DC’s mission to provide media coverage of issues that impact the underserved communities of the District of Columbia, we’ve reported on some of the issues in question on this blog.  We wanted to cover more but alas, lacked the manpower.   (Feel free to take that as a veiled plea to potential contributors.)

Here’s an update, as per DC’s Fiscal Policy Institute, on some of the provisions in the budget that are generally favorable to DC’s low-income and working-class residents:

Help for homeless residents. The FY 2014 budget included many increases in funding to help homeless residents or residents at risk of homelessness. Increases included:

  • $2.2 million increase in permanent supportive housing, which provides housing to chronically homeless families and individuals.
  • $1.5 million increase in emergency rental assistance, which helps prevent residents from becoming homeless.
  • $400,000 to offer services to single homeless residents to help move them out of shelter quickly and into housing with supportive services.
  • $5 million increase to the Office on Aging, including $3.5 million in operating funds. $1.5 million in capital funds.

Help for vulnerable families and individuals. The FY 2014 budget included two changes to DC’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program that will improve the lives of vulnerable families with children. First, the mayor’s budget included a delay in the benefit cut for families who have been on assistance for longer than 60 months. In addition, the Council also included funding to exempt some families with severe barriers from the time limit. These protections, which most states offer, give families a break from the 60-month time limit on benefits to give them time to deal with serious issues that interfere with their ability to work such as domestic violence, illness, or caring for a family member with a disability.

Help for parents who need child care. The FY 2014 budget increased funding for DC’s Subsidized Child Care program by $11 million. This program pays part of the childcare costs for parents of young children who are in school, working or looking for work but who cannot afford child care. The $11 million will increase the number of spaces available for infants and toddlers in community-based child care programs. It will also increase the reimbursement rates paid to providers by 10%. This is the first increase since 2004.

Help with rising housing costs. The FY 2014 budget includes significant increases to affordable housing. In addition to Mayor Gray’s proposed $100 million for affordable housing, the Council added funds for key affordable housing programs that had not received an increase in the mayor’s proposed budget. Including:

  • An increase to DC’s Local Rent Supplement Program, which provides rental subsidies to families with very low-incomes. The Council’s budget includes $1.75 million to provide rent vouchers that will help approximately 120 low-income families obtain affordable housing.
  • Increases to Low-Income Property Tax Relief or Schedule H, which is a tax credit for lower-income residents when rents or property taxes are high relative to income.
  • An expanded property tax break for seniors. Under current law, senior homeowners with income under $100,000 qualify for a 50 percent cut in property taxes. The FY 2014 Budget will provide property tax reductions for seniors with incomes between $100,000 and $125,000.

On the flip side, I’m not too happy about the Council’s decision to accept Mayor Gray’s proposal to restore a tax break on income from out-of-state bonds. This will reverse legislation adopted in recent years to phase out the tax break for investments made starting in 2013. DCFPI points out that much of the tax-exempt income in DC is earned by very high-income residents, including some who earn millions from these investments. They proposed phasing out the tax break for wealthy residents while maintaining the exemption for low- and moderate residents. But the Council has proposed allowing all residents to retain the tax break, regardless of income.

On the whole, the DC Budget for Fiscal Year 2014 looks okay for low-income and working class residents. It’s certainly better than last year’s budget. Considering the $417 million budget surplus from 2013, it should be better. Is it better enough? That’s a question we hope to pose and attempt to answer before budget season for fiscal year 2015 begins.

Courage and a Plan

Since 2003, Washington D.C. has seen a 43 percent decline in children placed in foster care. Though some progress has been made we are still seeing greater numbers of families struggling to access the resources they need to stay together when compared to the rest of the country. Our nation’s capital has one of the highest child poverty rates in the country with nearly 50 percent of youth in Ward 8 and 40 percent of youth in Ward 7 living below the federal poverty line. In 2011, Ward 8 had the highest unemployment rate in the nation.

The above video was also produced by Adwoa Masozi to accompany the Justice Policy Institute Report Fostering Change.

These same wards are predominantly African-American and have the highest rates of children entering the child welfare system, of which 99 percent are youth of color (93 percent African-American and 6 percent Latino) according to research in Fostering Change, the latest report put out by the Justice Policy Institute. Fostering Change shows how family and neighborhood poverty are two of the strongest predictors of child maltreatment, and that the conditions poverty creates can ultimately lead to a child being removed from their home.

When considered in a broader socioeconomic context, poverty becomes more than the absence of income and or earning potential—that is, a lack of work opportunities, quality or not, to support oneself and her or his dependents. It is also dealing with the collateral effects of not being able to take care of basic needs such as buying food, medical care, school supplies and adequate clothing or paying for transportation, utilities and rent. These are just some of the conditions that can lead to children being maltreated. JPI’s report found that abused and neglected children are 59 percent more likely to be arrested, 28 percent more likely to be arrested as adults, and 30 percent more likely to commit a violent crime. In 2011, half of youth under the supervision of the District’s juvenile justice agency, Department of Youth and Rehabilitative Services (DYRS), were from Wards 7 and 8.

You see, in the end, these children grow up. For all people currently incarcerated in the United States 1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men report a history of abuse as children. So, when we think about the needs of children in poverty, equal thought must be extended to that child’s family on whom she ultimately depends.


How many hardships would be mitigated and lives spared the trauma of family separation and or justice system involvement if they had access to quality jobs, mental health services and for the child, an uninterrupted education? Fostering Change cites parental incarceration, substance abuse and inadequate housing as some of the leading causes for youth involvement in the child welfare system. Nationally, 80 percent of children entering foster care are a result of at least one parent experiencing a substance abuse disorder. In 2010, 1 in 6 District youth entering foster care had an incarcerated parent. Think if substance abuse were treated like a public health issue rather than a criminal one? Or if instead of building exorbitantly priced condos, there were parallel investments made in maintaining and increasing the availability of affordable housing that kept pace with the need, as articulated by the city’s poverty levels?

These problems, however daunting, aren’t insolvable. Families are doing their best and brave varying levels of unrelenting uncertainty every day. That is courage and something we need a little more of in this city—not from those going through it, calling for it, and writing reports about it but the decision makers with the power to eliminate these conditions that flat-line the trajectory of countless African-American and Latino youth in D.C.’s at-risk communities.

The other half of what’s needed is a comprehensive plan that’s viable. Substance abuse, disproportionately high incarceration rates, poor health, and low educational attainment are symptomatic of deeper systematic social inequity and a historical lack of access. Fostering Change is a report in a four-part public safety and juvenile justice series that offers a way forward for the District in the way city agencies, through strategic collaboration and community partnership, address the needs of its most vulnerable residents. Public safety starts with securing our city’s youth, and their families, who need it the most.

Call to Action: Tell DC Council to Fund Subsidized Child Care

How much money were you making in 2004? Could you survive on that today? Maybe, maybe not. Might be a stretch but hey, times are tough. How about 27% of what you were making in 2004, could you survive on that? Unless 2004 was a real banner year and you made ten times what you’re making today, maintaining your lifestyle on that money would be impossible. If you were making less than the median income for Washington, DC in 2004, then 27% of that amount won’t even meet your basic needs.

Yet the DC Government refuses to pay child care providers who accept the city’s subsidized child care vouchers, more than 27% of the rate they should have been paid in 2004. Aaron Brooks, owner of Power To Become Child Care Center and Jeffrey Credit, owner of Community Child Development Center are more than a little peeved about the situation. They let the city council know during a day of lobbying at the Wilson Building headed by Empower DC child care organizer Sequnely Gray. The following video lays out their argument.

Despite a $417 million surplus in the city’s budget, Mayor Vincent Gray and the DC City Council are unlikely to increase funding for DC’s subsidized child care program unless someone like you accepts the challenge and makes them change their minds. Contact your city council members and tell them to fund subsidized child care. Here are their phone numbers and email addresses:

Councilmember Phil Mendelson
(202) 724-8032

At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds
(202) 724-8064

At-Large Councilmember David Grosso
(202) 724-8105

At-Large Councilmember David Catania
(202) 724-7772

At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange
(202) 724-8174

Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham
(202) 724-8181

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans
(202) 724-8058

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh
(202) 724-8062

Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser
(202) 724-8052

Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie
(202) 724-8028

Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells
(202) 724-8072

Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander
(202) 724-8068

Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry
(202) 724-8045

Doing Right By the District’s Children

Who is OSSEChild care in Washington DC is vital for a family to work, live, and participate in the community in a positive way. Without proper child care, parents- particularly single parents- may be forced to cut back their work hours, turn down promotions, or even quit their stable jobs. For the children, these early years provide the foundation for their future development; quality child care prepares children for success in school. Child care is increasingly expensive and many families cannot afford it on their own wages. In the District, the average yearly child care cost for an infant/toddler is $18,200. These are clear facts that have been widely documented.

So then why is funding for subsidies continually cut? Why are reimbursement rates for providers so low that they can’t afford to provide high quality care?

Child care advocates all over the District have been working for years to right the funding wrongs of the Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). Funding for the child care subsidy program has been slashed dramatically while the need for these subsidies continues to grow at a steady pace. Last year, the council passed a budget that cut $5.7 million; in the last five years subsidies have been cut nearly $30 million. This is 1,600 families that were unable to participate in the subsidy program. This is 1,600 families who could not get child care.

This year, in the Mayor’s released budget, the child care subsidy/voucher program made it to #1 on his wish list. Child care should not be a “wish” because the money is there. The District has enough funds and new sources of revenue to restore the money that has been taken away from this program.

In fiscal year 2014, the childcare subsidy/voucher program will lose another 1.5 million dollars due to sequestration. This budget cut affects about 80 more families who need childcare subsidies to work, attend school and seek employment. However, the District of Columbia has the money to replace what is being cut. DC has generated over 400 million dollars of extra revenue for the city in the past year but they put all of it in the bank. Meanwhile, parents are still having challenges getting childcare vouchers and their children are missing out on an early start in education.  The mayor and his team regularly say how much they care about families and, in particular, vulnerable children in this city. They sure have a funny way of showing it.  Now it’s up to the Council to plug the leak in childcare subsidies. We need to restore the lost funding for childcare subsidies and give higher reimbursement rates for childcare providers. Because DC doesn’t work without childcare.