The U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education heard testimony yesterday on child care subsidy at a hearing entitled, “The Foundation for Success: Strengthening the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program.” A brief summary of testimony follows.
Opening Statement by Chair Todd Rokita (IN)
Chairman Rokita emphasized the importance of safety as a key component of quality. “CCDBG is invaluable to parents who are struggling to provide for their families. As a father of two boys, I know firsthand child care isn’t just finding a place for your kids to go during your work day. It’s a far more difficult decision about choosing a provider where you can trust trained professionals will care for your child in a safe environment.”
He noted the need for greater coordination. “I also hope today we can discuss policy changes that work to streamline the federal early childhood system and help increase coordination among existing programs.”
Dr. Olivia Golden
Executive Director, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)
Dr. Golden began her testimony by emphasizing how important child care subsidy is to working poor families and their children. “Its importance for these families cannot be overstated. In July 2012, Rita Ngabo, a child care case worker in Maryland, talked about the importance of child care assistance for her and her child: ‘These federal investments were a quite serious lifeline for me and I know it has been for a lot of low-income families out there. I know where I came from and I do not want to go back.’ . . . Quite simply, children do better in school and in life when their parents work and have more income. “
Dr. Golden recommended:
- Improvements to the health and safety of child care through requirements for pre-licensure and annual inspections for licensed child care providers; training requirements for child care providers; and comprehensive background checks for child care providers serving children receiving CCDBG.
- Improvements to make it easier for families to get and keep child care assistance to help parents stay and move up in their jobs while also supporting children’s development by providing continuity in their child care arrangement.
- Strengthening the quality of child care by increasing the share of CCDBG funds spent on quality, dedicated funding for improving the quality of infant-toddler child care; encouraging a system of supports for early childhood teachers to improve the skills and knowledge of those caring for children; and providing parents with better information about the quality of available child care.
Executive Director, Oklahoma Child Care Resource & Referral Association, Inc.
Ms. Koos urged the committee to consider the following:
- Improve safety protections for children. Require comprehensive background checks for child care providers and volunteers who care for unrelated children. Set minimum health and safety protections for all children in child care.
- Strengthen the Child Care Workforce. Require those who work in child care to have at least 30 hours of pre-service training and 24 hours of annual training. These are the recommendations from pediatric experts (see the National Resource Center for Health and Safety, Caring for Our Children recommendations).
- Enhance Monitoring. Insure that all child care programs are subject to inspection prior to licensure and at least once annually, especially when CCDBG dollars are used to pay for care.
- Improve Quality. Increase the quality set-aside for activities related to improving the quality of child care.
- Subsidy Rates. Child care is expensive. It is hard for most families to afford; it is not merely a challenge for families in poverty. Consider a study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to review the cost of child care and recommend ways to design a better system. (Added by NCECF: Child Care Aware study recommends that NAS conduct a review.)
Read Ms. Koos’ complete statement.
President, National Child Care Association
Mrs. Kostantenaco discussed the challenges of operating a child care business. “Unfortunately, we cannot afford to pay our employees what they so deserve as the profit margins within the child care industry is not significant, and a weakened economy only compounds this reality. Aside from salaries and maintaining an engaging center with toys and educational resources, I must also consider food, milk, utilities, gasoline prices for transportation, and many other costs that create significant challenges in operating a private child care center. Due to all of these outside economic forces, we are not always in the position to pass these higher costs on to the parents, leaving me to absorb them as best I can. You can imagine the difficult situation I find myself each year in awarding my staff with the pay they so deeply deserve; their genuine dedication truly becomes a blessing as we move forward each day.
Deputy Inspector General for Audit Services, Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Ms. Jarmon’s testimony discussed the challenges of monitoring the health and safety of children and fiscal controls. She shared corrective actions taken to reduce improper payments of funds. Ms. Jarmon shared three key issues:
- Vulnerabilities exist in States’ standards and monitoring of child care providers that put the health and safety of some children at risk. Federal requirements mandating that States strengthen minimum health and safety requirements (including background checks) and
- strengthen monitoring (including unannounced site visits) would reduce those risks.
- Weaknesses in certain States’ fiscal controls over obligation and liquidation activities put CCDF funds at risk of being misspent.
- HHS had identified the CCDF program as being susceptible to significant improper payments. HHS reported significant progress in reducing the improper payment rate for the CCDF program from 9.4 percent in FY 2012 to 5.9 percent in FY 2013. However, sustained attention will be needed to further reduce improper payments in this program.