Survey: Middle class frozen out of Delaware child care aid programs

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According to a new survey of parents, working families in Delaware struggle to afford quality early care and education programs, including many who earn too much money to qualify for state-funded programs.

The burden is so great that the costs derail plans to start a business, advance their education or have another child.
 
Families continue to face limited supply and high costs for child care. Forty-four percent of respondents said they:
– Can’t find a program with vacancies.
– Can’t find a program that meets the needs of their schedule.
– Can’t afford to send their child to a program.
– Sixteen percent of respondents reported that they are in debt, at least partly due to the high cost of child care. 
Of the respondents who reported their household income range, 65 percent said they earn more than $55,000 annually — placing them above the threshold to qualify for state preschool programs for a family of four. Delaware’s neighboring states and most states have addressed this eligibility challenge by increasing income limits for public programs.

The survey was conducted online in September by a coalition of advocacy groups, including Rodel, the Delaware Association for the Education of Young Children (DEAEYC), YMCA of Delaware, Delaware Readiness Teams, St. Michael’s School and Nursery, and the First State Pre-K coalition.
 
Almost all (97 percent) of respondents who said that they struggled to afford or find child care said they would improve their lives in some way (start a business, get a job, enroll in school, and/or pick up more hours) if they were able to afford and find care.
Workforce: 60 percent said they would work more than they do now if they could afford/access child care. – – College: 18 percent said they would enroll in college or postsecondary education if they could afford/access child care. 
Business: 19 percent said they would start a business if they could afford or access child care.
Nearly half of all respondents reported that the cost of child care was greater than either their car payments (43 percent), groceries (50 percent), and/or utilities (49 percent). More than one-third said that the cost of child care was more expensive than their mortgage payment or rent and/or their college tuition or loan payments.
 
Low state investments and low eligibility limits impact families’ ability to access care. Even for parents who struggle financially, state assistance for child care can be hard to access.
 
In Delaware, a family of four must earn less than $55,000 (or 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level) to be eligible for publicly funded child care. That leaves an estimated 62 percent of zero-to-five-year-olds ineligible in Delaware and families on their own for child care tuition—which can be prohibitively expensive. Many families earning below $55,000 yearly cannot access care due to long waiting lists or costly co-payments, which can deplete up to nine percent of their income.
 
“We are seeing more and more families who are unable to enroll their children in child care centers because of the cost,” said Karen Hartz, director of early childhood services for the Latin American Community Center in Wilmington. “They no longer qualify for child care assistance through the state, but paying for child care out of their salary does not make economic sense. They are having to decide between not working or piecing together informal child care as best they can.”
 
The so-called “missing middle”—families who make more than 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level—pay for child care with huge chunks of their income.
The number of respondents who report that they cannot afford to pay their other bills due to the high cost of child care increases from a quarter (25 percent) to nearly a third (31 percent) for families who make $88,000 or less annually, which is approximately the “basic survival budget” for a family of four in Delaware.
 
Meanwhile, nearby states including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland offer child care assistance to families earning up to 250 or 300 percent of the federal poverty level—with some states reaching 575 percent.
 
Gov. John Carney and state legislators have prioritized investments in early care in recent years. Budget increases have enabled more children to enroll in the state-funded pre-K program Early Childhood Assistance Program (ECAP) and boosted a state subsidy to child care centers called Purchase of Care. But advocates say Delaware needs to catch up with its neighboring states and support the workforce of today and tomorrow.
 
“The YMCA of Delaware is planning how we can serve more children zero to five. We feel a sense of responsibility to support more families and children during the most critical years in a child’s brain development,” said Jarrett Royster, president and CEO of YMCA of Delaware. “At the YMCA, we believe every child regardless of the zip code they are born in deserves quality care. That’s why we are advocating to raise the eligibility threshold to 250 percent of the poverty level to allow more low- and middle-income families to afford care and return to work.”
 
Children who miss out on formal care and education miss out on critical early developmental opportunities. Research proves that experiences in developmentally appropriate high-quality child care programs have a profound impact on children’s development and success later in life.
Quotes from caregivers: 
“We are not able to afford both daycare and extended care. We use PTO and have made special arrangements with our employers.” –Parent from City of Wilmington, more than $88,000 household income
 “Despite having a high salary between parents, student loan payments and child care costs [mean] there are many months when we cannot save for the future the way we hoped.” – Parent from New Castle County, more than $88,000 household income
 “We unfortunately will probably not have a second child because we would be paycheck to paycheck and the cost of two [children] would be almost half our total income. Otherwise, we could have a second child. –Parent from City of Wilmington, more than $88,000 household income
 “I have a good [child care center] but it’s costing me quite a bit of money even with [Purchase of Care].” –Parent from Kent County, between $30,000-$55,000 household income
 “Before and after school care is not available in my area. Summer care is, however, too expensive to send kids there the entire summer so we ask relatives to spend weeks with us over the summer to watch the children.” – Parent from Sussex County, more than $88,000 household income.
 “Since [child care costs] as much as my wife’s salary, she chose to be a stay-home mom.” –Parent from New Castle County, more than $88,000 household income
 “I stay home because we could not afford bills and child care. Even to stay home I am having to file bankruptcy because we can’t even afford this—but this was the better option compared to fulltime care so I can work.” Parent from Sussex County, between $56,000-$88,000 household income.
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