DSS chief: More may go without child care

By JON HAWLEY

The Daily Advance

0 Comments | Leave a Comment

State cuts and tightened eligibility for child-care subsidies is likely to cause more families in Pasquotank County to go without child care, the county Department of Social Services director predicted last month.

Melissa Stokely said her department continues studying numerous changes to how families qualify for child-care subsidies, following state lawmakers’ modification of the program in the recently enacted 2014-15 state budget.

Under the changes lawmakers approved, parents will be deemed ineligible for the program at lower income thresholds, see certain non-parent caretakers’ income count against their qualifying incomes, and pay a larger portion of their incomes to match the subsidies.

How all those changes will affect local families is unclear and will happen gradually, Stokely explained in an email.

Each family’s income is reviewed every 12 months after they qualify for subsidies, spreading out when families could lose the benefits. The parents or guardians of 28 children will have to meet new income thresholds next month, she estimated.

There are several different changes DSS staff are working through, Stokely explained.

First, the new state budget now tethers a family’s income to the federal poverty level instead of the statewide median income. Families used to qualify for a child-care subsidy if they made 75 percent or less of the statewide median income. Now their incomes are measured against 200 percent of the federal poverty level if their children are younger than 5 years old, and 133 percent of the federal poverty level if their children are between the ages of 6 and 12.

For example, Stokely said parents with two kids previously qualified for subsidies if their annual income was $50,975 or less. Now, if their kids are both younger than 5, they can’t make more than $47,700 annually. If their kids are between 6 and 12, however, they can’t make more than $31,720 annually.

The change goes into effect Oct. 1; families whose eligibility is reviewed before then will be held to the old median income standard. The precise impact of that change isn’t clear yet, Stokely said.

“At this point, it’s difficult to project the number of families who would lose eligibility under this change from the median income to the federal poverty level,” Stokely said, adding it’s possible the program may cover more children younger than 5. “The state is assisting with a data query that will identify children potentially impacted.”

In another big change, the new state budget counts certain family members helping parents supervise their children as part of “income unit” used to determine eligibility.

Effective Jan. 1, 2015, the income of non-parent caretakers, such as grandparents, will have to be factored into new applications for subsidies, Stokely said.

Additionally, parents will now have to pay a flat 10 percent of their monthly income toward childcare to get the subsidies. The percentage used to scale from 6 to 9 percent depending on income. That takes effect Oct. 1 for all current and future beneficiaries.

Even though the impact of the changes is unclear, Stokely still predicted it would result in parents leaving more children either under- or unsupervised as they’re deemed ineligible for the program.

“With the changes in subsidy child care and the impact it may have on children ages 6-12, it is anticipated that we will see an increase in Child Protective Services reports due to a lack of supervision for school-age children (a.k.a ‘latchkey’ children) after-school, holidays and teacher workdays,” Stokely said. “Many parents will be unable to privately pay for child care and may have to rely on older school-age children, family members or neighbors.”

Stokely noted that state law requires Child Protective Services to respond to reports of improper supervision. That “creates another hardship for working parents who struggle,” she said.

Stokely said DSS staff continue trying to contact and advise households who may be affected by the impending program changes.

For more information, call the Pasquotank DSS office at 338-2126.