Earlier this year, over 800 West Virginia families with 1,400 children were told they would lose their child care assistance due to changes in the state’s eligibility requirements as of January 2013. But this week, those families received a reprieve when Governor Tomblin, recognizing how important child care is to helping families, announced he would be tabling the changes for further review.
West Virginia’s income eligibility limit for a family to initially qualify for child care assistance is 150 percent of poverty ($28,635 a year for a family of three), but families already receiving assistance can continue to receive it with incomes up to 185 percent of poverty ($35,317 a year for a family of three). Under the proposed changes, families would have lost assistance as soon as their income reached 150 percent of poverty. Families would have had to find a way to cover the entire cost of care on their own just as they were starting to make progress in their financial situation, but when they were still far from being financially secure.
A report from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy issued in November helped make the case against the proposed cuts by highlighting the effects the cuts would have on children, families, and the economy. The report called for the state to step up and invest its own resources following the expiration of the additional federal child care funds that had been provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
While it is encouraging that the eligibility cuts have been tabled, the state enacted other changes earlier this year that place greater cost burdens on families receiving child care assistance. Copayments were increased significantly — for example, the monthly copayment for a family of three with an income at 100 percent of poverty ($19,090 a year) increased from $40 to $65.
Governor Tomblin’s decision to suspend the eligibility cut was a victory for children and families, but it is only the beginning. More needs to be done to improve child care assistance policies in West Virginia and in all states so that families can receive the help they need affording high-quality care. Even when budgets are tight, it is essential to prioritize supports for children and families, such as child care assistance, that enable parents to work, support their families, and provide early education experiences for their children, all of which benefit our nation’s economy.