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Travis County increases support for child care

Friday, August 16, 2019 by Jack Craver

Funding authorized Tuesday by the Travis County Commissioners Court will provide day care for 92 low-income children.

The $285,000 funding was recommended by county staff to address a growing number of children on the waiting list for federal child care subsidies that are administered by a local workforce agency, Workforce Solutions.

This year the federal government is providing about $27 million for Workforce Solutions to subsidize the cost of child care for low-income parents. To qualify, families must have an income no greater than 85 percent of the state median ($43,290 for a two-person household or $63,662 for a four-person household).

The federal funding provided child care for more than 2,500 children last year, but federal and state rules require parents to be working a certain number of hours, leading parents to lose access to care if they become unemployed or are searching for jobs.

To fill those gaps in service, the city and county each contribute roughly half a million dollars to Workforce Solutions, in the hopes that ensuring continued child care will help parents find jobs. That funding provides care for an estimated 365 children, according to a memo from county budget staff.

The memo explains that new federal and state policies have resulted in more gaps in service, prompting the county to increase its support for families that either aren’t qualifying for subsidies or are on the waitlist. The proposed $285,000 is being added to the Fiscal Year 2019 budget. Staffers have also proposed a similar increase in the FY 2020 budget, bringing the county’s total annual spending on the program to $744,499.

One of the key changes, which child care advocates laud, is a new federal rule implemented by the Obama administration in 2014 requiring states to provide 12 consecutive months of care to families that qualify for subsidies, rather than requiring families to reapply for subsidies every few months. While that change helped provide greater stability for children, it also reduced the turnover in the system and limited the number of openings for subsidized care.

Speaking in support of the increased funding, Commissioner Brigid Shea said that providing child care to parents while they’re searching for jobs produces “enormous dividends” in reducing poverty.

“I wish the state contributed more, but they haven’t so we have to have the gap funding,” she said.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said he agreed with “99 percent” of his colleague’s remarks, but expressed concerns about the growth in the cost of the program at a time when the county is facing strict property tax restraints from the state. He also suggested the program is not producing great results if the number of people in need of subsidies hasn’t declined.

“Unfortunately we know that with this help we still aren’t getting people out of poverty,” he said. “I mean, they have a job but they are still making less than what it takes to live in this community.”

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said his skepticism was misguided: “Actually we are getting them out of poverty. There’s really good research on this. This is a phenomenally successful program.”

Eckhardt noted that the poverty rate in Travis County had declined from 19 percent to 12 percent since it peaked during the recession a decade ago and that those who received training through Workforce Solutions programs see their income rise by an average of 37 percent.

The growth in the program, Eckhardt said, was a reflection not of its failure, but of the county’s growing population.

Sherri Fleming, head of the Health and Human Services Department, similarly emphasized the research in support of early childhood education.

Daugherty replied that the issue is not children, but parents having children “that they can’t afford.” He later added, “It’s hard to go out and tell somebody, I mean, you can’t have a child. I mean, you shouldn’t have a child.”

Eckhardt retorted: “That would be referred to as eugenics and I think we got rid of that idea.”

Daugherty took no apparent offense at the dig and repeated that he was concerned about the future cost of the program. He nevertheless voted with Shea and Eckhardt to approve the budget increase. Commissioners Jeff Travillion and Margaret Gómez were absent.

U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Valerie Monroy.

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