In the span of a year, Missouri lost more children than any other state from a federal program that helps working parents pay for child care.
The figures, from an October survey by the Center for Law and Social Policy, or CLASP, show enrollment has dropped by 12,300 children statewide — more than a quarter of the net loss of enrollment nationwide.
The report notes that in 2013 participation in the child care subsidy program hit a 15-year low despite a rise in child poverty and stagnant wages in service jobs typically filled by the poor. Last year about 1.5 million children used the subsidy per month versus a program high of 1.8 million per month in 2006.
According to the report, the Missouri enrollment drop of 12,300 children was the largest in the country, far surpassing the 30 states that also saw net losses of subsidy use. Only New York and Texas — states with far more children than Missouri — came close to those declines last year, each reporting a net monthly average decline of 9,500 children. Twenty-three states had declines of 5,000 or fewer, with most of them reporting monthly average declines of fewer than 1,000 children.
The federal program is expected to release upwards of $2.3 billion annually starting in 2015. In Missouri, the Department of Social Services administers the program, handling sign-up and subsidy payments to providers.
But Missouri’s Legislature has set one of the most stringent income qualifiers for the federal subsidy in the country.
Parents enrolling in the program this year cannot earn more than 123 percent of the poverty level, or an income more than $24,342 for a family of three. The average yearly cost of full-time child care for a child in a St. Louis County child care center hovers around $11,000 for a toddler, according to Child Care Aware of Missouri.
A new report by the National Women’s Law Center indicates Missouri’s child care subsidy rate is one of the worst in the nation — about 43 percent less than the average market rate for child care in the St. Louis area.
These qualifiers have always made it difficult for needy Missourians to get the subsidy and keep it, said Glen Koenen, an advocate for the hungry who has seen similar enrollment drops in Missouri’s administration of the federal food stamp program.
(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 11/17/14)