NC Meets or Exceeds Many New Requirements for Federal Child Care Dollars; Updates Planned for Others

A recent report by the National Women’s Law Center tracked states’ progress in implementing the 2014 Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) reauthorization by looking at state policies and policy changes in a few key areas. National advocates are concerned that while these updates aimed to improve the quality of care and make it easier for families to get and retain child care assistance, Congress has not yet provided enough funding to allow many states to make the necessary changes.

In the report, it appears that North Carolina has not yet begun taking steps to meet new requirements under the reauthorized law. However, NCECF thought it warranted a closer look, so we checked in with the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) to get the inside scoop. North Carolina actually already meets several of the new requirements, is making plans to meet another, and is lagging on one. Here’s the run-down:

Has the state hired additional staff to implement the law’s new licensing and monitoring requirements?

The law created new requirements for monitoring and licensing child care providers. About half of states (21) have hired additional licensing staff to meet the new requirements. North Carolina and 28 other states have not.

North Carolina’s staff to programs ratio was already fairly low at 50 to 75 programs per staff member, however. While many states needed to hire staff in order to make the newly required annual visits, North Carolina has been making annual visits to programs and did not require more staff to continue that.

Has the state lengthened the eligibility period during which families can continue to receive child care assistance without having to re-certify? What are the reporting requirements when family circumstances change?

Under the reauthorized law, states must allow families to remain eligible for child care assistance for a minimum of 12 months, regardless of temporary changes in parental employment or participation in education or training or changes in income, as long as household income remains below 85 percent of state median income.

Approximately four-fifths of the states, including North Carolina, now have a 12-month eligibility period for all families receiving child care assistance. North Carolina’s eligibility period, like many states, was already 12 months and did not require any changes.

States vary widely in what types of changes in family circumstances must be reported, such as changes in income, work schedules, child care schedules, and/or household members, and in how long families have to report on a change. While a number of states have limited their interim reporting requirements or stopped acting on reported changes since the enactment of the reauthorized law, North Carolina’s reporting requirements have not changed and are among the strictest, requiring families to report any change that affects eligibility or contact information within five days of the change.

This item is under discussion in North Carolina, and updates are planned. 

Has the state begun providing payment to child care providers for days when children receiving child care assistance are absent?

North Carolina is among 32 states whose policies in this area were already equal to or more generous than required by the new law. North Carolina pays for up to 10 days per month that children are absent. The state has not changed that policy, since it met or exceeded the new requirements. 

Has the state begun offering differential (higher) payment rates for special needs care, care during nontraditional hours, and other specialized care in short supply?

Thirty-four states pay a differential rate to providers caring for children with special needs. Thirteen states pay differential rates for care during nontraditional hours. Six states pay differential rates for care for one or more other groups of vulnerable children. The national report found that North Carolina does not pay differential rates in any of these circumstances, and no changes in that policy are expected. That’s not exactly right.

DCDEE reports that while North Carolina does not pay tiered rates for special needs care, there are differential rates paid to certified developmental day centers (CDDC) that care for children with special needs. The payment rates for special needs children and typically developing children served in CDDCs are calculated every two years and are implemented as funding allows. Those rates are based on a cost study completed by each CDDC.

Providers who are not CDDCs but do serve children with special needs are eligible for supplemental payments. Examples of costs which may be covered by supplemental payments include, but are not limited to, specialized learning materials or equipment, additional staff, and substitute time so that staff can participate in training ,which would help ensure successful placement of the child with special needs.

NC does not pay differential rates for nontraditional hours or any other vulnerable population.

Without additional federal funding, as states devote more resources to meeting the new requirements, they may be forced to cut the number of families receiving assistance or reduce payments to child care providers, which would limit families’ access to affordable, high quality care. According to the National Women’s Law Center report, the number of children receiving child care assistance nationally already decreased by 373,000 between 2006 and 2015 due to insufficient funding.