It can cost more to provide quality child care for your children than it does to provide a roof over their heads. The cost can eat a parent’s entire paycheck each month, especially if she is working a low-wage job or she has more than one child under school age. Annually, quality child care averages from $7,000 to $10,000 per child.
Parents who have no option but to work often face difficult and unreasonable choices. Do you put your children in a cheap but low-quality setting where they may not get the attention or educational enrichment they need? Or do you sacrifice safe housing, reliable transportation or healthy food so you can pay for better child care?
For some lucky parents, there is help in the form of child-care subsidies. This state program helps low-income parents pay for quality child care while they are working or participating in training or education programs. Both the state and the federal government contribute funding for the subsidies, and county government administers the program. Parents who get the subsidies still contribute a portion of their incomes to their children’s care.
The subsidy program has two big benefits for the state. First, it enables parents to work or to get their education, which means those families are going to be more financially stable over the long term. Second, it enables parents to place their children in quality child-care settings that can better prepare them for school.
State funding for subsidies has dropped dramatically in recent years. In 2010, more than 151,000 children in North Carolina benefited from subsidies, and approximately 84 percent of them lived in households that earning less than $25,000 a year.
Today, 75,000 children receive subsidized care in North Carolina, and more than 40,000 children are on waiting lists for slots. Because slots are so hard to come by, many families don’t bother signing up, so it’s likely the number of eligible families that don’t receiving subsidies is actually much higher.
In fact, state budget cuts to the program mean that more than 1,200 children may lose their child-care subsidies by this summer because their counties are running out of funds. These cuts may also force some child-care centers that serve low-income neighborhoods out of business. As a research brief from the NC Justice Center explains:
The child care industry as a whole employs almost 50,000 North Carolinians, allowing 380,000 North Carolinian parents to work. In total, these families earn almost $12.5 billion annually, which is spent locally and drives local economic growth. In more rural communities, particularly in the eastern part of the state, the child care sector is one of the few sources of stable jobs.
Research shows quality child care makes a tremendous difference in a child’s development and future success. It’s a sensible investment in North Carolina’s families and future.