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Why We Hope the Senate Will Agree to Three Boring Technical Provisions in the House Budget

When Dianisha Martinez of Fayetteville, an Army veteran and mother of two, scrambles every weekday morning to get her kids to school and child care, she doesn’t have time to think a lot about what the State House and Senate are agreeing or disagreeing about. She’s focused on getting to school herself, to earn her degree as a physical therapist. The poised, soft-spoken young lady hardly looks like someone who passed basic training, marched in boots, and can fire a rifle—but she has the same determination to earn her degree and build a better future for her kids that she had when she launched her career in the Army.

Dianisha’s family economic structure is held together by one key item—what is essentially a financial need-based “scholarship” for her kids to go to high-quality child care. In bureaucratic terms it’s called “child care subsidy” and it mostly comes from the Federal Child Care Development Block Grant. States get these Federal grants and largely define the eligibility rules.

The subsidy is for working families and it’s not a free ride—Dianisha has to pay a co-pay for her child care subsidy that’s 10% of her gross household income. The expectation is that when she completes her degree she’ll be making enough money that she’ll be able to afford child care on her own.

If her children weren’t eligible for the subsidies, she says she wouldn’t be able to afford child care and would probably have to quit school to stay home and take care of the kids. Her health care career would go down the drain, along with her kids’ better prospects for school performance based on their child care learning experiences. (For those legislators who want to improve third-grade reading scores, this is one important step in the right direction.)

Last year, when the NC Legislature further tightened the subsidy eligibility rules, thousands of working families found themselves on the wrong side of the balance sheet, and they no longer qualified for need-based assistance. While the Legislature had the laudable goal of making more young children eligible for care and reducing the chronically long waiting list for subsidy, the impact was that more than 6,000 children were disqualified and their families had to scramble to patch together a family budget and their own prospects for a better economic future.

We are hoping that, as the State Senate crafts its budget proposal this week, budget writers will include three key provisions that were included in the House budget. These provisions restore access to high-quality child care for working families:

• Increase eligibility for children in grades K-3 from 133% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) to 200% of FPL, which ensures that more children will have access to the high-quality education programs that improve reading skills by the third grade.

• Restore an earlier definition of ‘family income unit,’ so children living with grandparents and other relative caregivers can continue receiving child care subsidies.

• Allow co-pays to be pro-rated for partial day care, like after-school programs. This makes child care subsidies work for families with different needs.

These important provisions will affect thousands and thousands of North Carolina children and families.  We hope the Senate and House will see that these are non-controversial improvements that should not be among the items contested between the two chambers.

And look for a video of Dianisha soon! It’s in final editing—you’ll see her, her kids, and hear her talk about what her life is like today.

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