Shrinking the wait list (some) for child care assistance

Shrinking the wait list (some) for child care assistance

A little over a decade ago, Louisiana provided child care assistance to 40,000 children from low-income families. Though the benefit didn’t reach all families in need and the benefit wasn’t enough to cover high quality care, the Child Care Assistance Program nonetheless helped with one of the most significant costs low-income working families face while making it easier for many low-income parents to go to work. But funding cuts during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration gutted the program, shrinking its ranks by more than two-thirds. Now, legislation signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards will raise the benefit in line with a federal mandate, and will bring an additional 1,400 children off the waiting list and into care. Unfortunately, as Nola.com/The Times-Picayune’s Wilborn Nobles III reports, this only scratches the surface of need in the state:

State Superintendent John White in a statement Wednesday expressed gratitude for the chance to provide affordable child care to more families. He stressed, however, that the funding is “only a small portion” of the amount needed to help Louisiana’s “most vulnerable children.” Funding cuts have decreased CCAP enrollment from almost 40,000 children in 2007 to 14,600 in 2018. Additionally, approximately 3,000 children will remain on the waiting list after the new seats are filled, said Melanie Bronfin, the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children’s policy director, in a statement Wednesday. “An estimated 173,000 low-income children, birth through age 3, across Louisiana cannot access affordable, high quality care and education. Currently only 22,000 children in that age range are being served in publicly funded seats. This is unacceptable,” Bronfin stated.

 

Parenting in Poverty
When Bobby Dempsey was a kid, she never went to birthday parties because the gift was too expensive, and she called in sick for field trips because her family couldn’t afford the fee. Parents on a low income often face a daily struggle to balance basic necessities against each other while providing their children some of the simple amenities of childhood. As Dempsey explains in The New York Times, the stigma of poverty, compounded by the myriad and often confusing restrictions that come with public benefits, make things harder for people trying hard to get by:

I’m a mom — although I have never been a single one — and have spent a large chunk of my life struggling to survive financially and desperately trying to overcome the huge disadvantage that comes with being born into severe poverty. Not only was I a food stamps kid, I was also occasionally a food stamps mom — thankfully for only brief periods during a medical crisis or unexpected job loss. I am far too familiar with the seemingly endless array of indignities and flavors of shame that come with living in poverty. You get dirty glances for looking poor — but are also judged if you look “too rich,” by wearing something an observer deems too nice for someone on public assistance. Everything you buy or eat in view of others is up for public scrutiny and unwanted commentary.

 

Don’t penalize hard work
Between 2010 and 2014, Louisiana used an option known as “Broad Based Categorical Eligibility” to make sure that people whose livelihoods were harmed by the BP oil spill didn’t also lose access to food assistance when they won compensation from their losses. It’s unfortunate that the state no longer has that policy in place. Thirty-nine states and three territories use categorical eligibility to make sure that the few low-income working families with modest assets aren’t penalized for the savings they’ve scraped together, and that the many more low-income families with no or very little savings don’t lose SNAP access because of the onerous paperwork requirements that come with documenting their few assets. Categorical eligibility also helps people whose housing or medical expenses drive them into poverty access food assistance to help make ends meet. On Thursday, in response to Trump administration discussions about rolling back categorical eligibility, witnesses at a congressional hearing on the policy explained how it helps working families avoid ending up with fewer net resources when a small raise brings them over the eligibility threshold for SNAP. Dottie Rosenbaum at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains the policy’s importance:

Categorical eligibility has been a success for 20 years. More than 40 states have adopted it to make SNAP more responsive to the needs of households, specifically those working their way up the economic ladder or saving to invest in the future or avoid a financial crisis. … Categorical eligibility modestly broadens SNAP’s reach to help meet the needs of certain working families, senior citizens, and people with disabilities. Policymakers have long sought to help low-income households, especially those working and those saving in order to maintain their independence. This important state option makes SNAP more responsive to these two groups. Rolling it back, as the Trump Administration seeks to do, would be a step in the wrong direction.

 

A hard choice on a flawed Obamacare backup
With the 2019 legislative session in the rearview mirror, most questions about what will or won’t become law this year have been answered. One big exception: Senate Bill 173, a flawed backstop for the Affordable Care Act that would raise costs significantly for seniors, would end Medicaid expansion, and would effectively allow insurance companies to once again exclude people with pre-existing conditions like cancer or asthma by charging them prohibitively high premiums. As The Advocate’s Stephanie Grace writes, the bill is only necessary because of Attorney General Jeff Landry’s lawsuit to overturn the popular federal law. Now, the governor now faces a difficult choice between signing a bill that doesn’t do enough for Louisiana’s families and leaving the state’s residents more vulnerable to Landry’s reckless lawsuit:

While (Sen. Fred) Mills is the sponsor, the politician who really owns the measure is Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry. Landry claims it would undo the potentially immense harm to Louisianans should a multi-state lawsuit out of Texas he’s supporting to overturn the Affordable Care Act prevail. And ever since the Legislature chose it rather than a different version backed by the Democratic governor, he’s been pretty much goading the governor to get behind it. Edwards vehemently opposes Landry’s decision to sign Louisiana up for the suit, which would mean the end of popular provisions such as protections for people with preexisting conditions and Medicaid expansion. The bill Landry backed addresses the first and not the second, and Edwards makes a compelling case that it does so inadequately — in part because it relies on the sort of federal funding that would need to be replaced should the ACA fall.

 

Number of the Day
151,000 – Estimated number of children in need not served by Louisiana’s Child Care Assistance Program. That number is shrinking by 1,400 thanks to funding in next year’s budget. (Source: Nola.com/The Times-Picayune)