Minnesota and Missouri have joined Massachusetts in proposing new state investments in early childhood education and care. However, just as we were cheering those states, Kentucky announced damaging cuts to its child care assistance program, reminding us yet again that these programs and the low-income women and children they support are in a fragile position.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has proposed to provide $20 million over the 2014-2015 biennium to increase rates for child care providers serving families receiving child care assistance. He has also proposed (PDF) to provide $44 million to expand scholarships to enable low-income families to purchase high-quality early care and education for their children.
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.
As Republicans and Democrats struggle to reach a compromise before the impending fiscal cliff, some media and policy advisors from across the political spectrum are finding agreement on one issue: the importance of investing in early learning and the need to make the well-being of young children a national priority.
Mark McKinnon, a former advisor for President George W. Bush, recently appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe to discuss the importance of early childhood intervention. During the interview, McKinnon was asked to identify a specific investment that can improve the well-being of American children. "Money spent early on has a much greater return on investment," McKinnon responded. Programs that intervene in children's lives during the crucial years from birth to age five, especially children from low-income families, prepare them for future success and must be prioritized.
McKinnon argues that improving child well-being is part of a broader set of issues that transcend party lines. He is currently working with former Obama campaign advisor Jim Margolis to produce a mass media campaign called Too Small to Fail. Launched in November by the Center for the Next Generation, Too Small to Fail attempts to convey the consequences of neglecting the needs of our nation's children and highlight strategies for supporting children.