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Mecklenburg County is helping families with affordable childcare by changing subsidy requirements

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Mecklenburg County officially loosened eligibility requirements for childcare subsidies Wednesday in order to help more families with children under age 12 deal with the cost of childcare.

This program will enable more families to be served,” said Janet Singerman, CEO of Childcare Resources, which administers Mecklenburg County’s child care subsidy program. “Families do need help affording the cost of childcare.”

The county reportedly allocated around $10.5 million in leftover coronavirus aid to allow more families to access childcare funding.

“There is a huge cry for investment in childcare, since childcare is a very underfinanced system,” Singerman said. “I think that Mecklenburg County has made this investment because they see the connection between county priorities and the role that early education plays in family’s economic well-being and our community's economic recovery.”

Parents making under 300% above the federal poverty line are now able to qualify for childcare subsidies. That is $65,880 for a family of three. The federal guidelines consider household size when determining the poverty line.

On top of that, the number of hours a parent needs to work was reduced from 30 hours to 22 hours. This is important since access to childcare can be a large barrier in accessing employment, Singerman said.

“We believe that by reducing the number of hours required to access this new childcare subsidy program we will be able to serve more families,” Singerman said. “And with the childcare subsidy, they'll be able to increase their work hours because they have reliable childcare.”

For Singerman, access to childcare is important since research suggests that a child’s early years have long-term implications on a child’s future success.

Everything we know about brain development tells us that birth to 5 are critical years,” Singerman said. “And so what happens? A child's earliest experiences really impacts the trajectory of their success throughout life.”

Before the requirements changed, parents with a child 5 years or younger were eligible for the subsidy if they made under 200% of the federal poverty line, which is just under $44,000 a year for a family of three.

And for parents with a child aged 5 to 12, they could make under 133% above the federal poverty line, or under $29,200 for a family of three, and still qualify.

But the cost of childcare for one year is more than the cost of in state tuition at UNC-Chapel Hill, which is about $9,000 a year, Singerman said. The estimated cost of childcare is at least $800 to $1,500 a month, according to Mecklenburg County. The yearly cost of childcare is anywhere between $9,600 and $18,000.

Because of that, many families that are just above those financial thresholds still struggled with being able to cover the costs of childcare, she said.

“Many families call us just under the work requirements, just over the income eligibility. And we have to say no,” Singerman said. “But those families still need support in affording the costs of high quality child care. And this program will increase access.”

Before the expansion, Mecklenburg County spent roughly $20 million to help subsidize the childcare for about 6,700 children as of April of this year, according to Dianna Jolly, co-director of childcare financial aid for Childcare Resources. The new money will cover some of the costs for at least 700 new children in the program.

Jolly said that Childcare Resources also receives funding from the state on top of funding from Mecklenburg County to support the subsidies.

Singerman thinks the county's decision will have a large economic impact in our community.

“This helps us make childcare more affordable to families, which makes work more accessible to low income working families, and really supports economic opportunity, economic mobility and high quality early care and education for children,” Singerman said. “That impacts a child's life and lifelong success.”

Parents who qualify for the subsidy are responsible for 10% of their household income in child care expenses as a sort of co-payment, Singerman said. The rest of the cost is covered by the program.

Families can reach out to Child Care Resources at 704 348-2181 for more information or https://www.childcareresourcesinc.org/.

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Lars Lonnroth is a journalism and political science student at Mercer University in Georgia. He's interning at WFAE.