Pittsburgh's neediest families won't benefit from the proposed reforms to President Donald Trump's affordable child care system, according to some local advocates.
In his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Trump said he wanted to "work with members of both parties to make child care accessible and affordable."
Trump has said he'd allow families to deduct child care costs from their taxable income and provide tax credits for families who earn too little to owe taxes. According to a report by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy and Bloomberg News, the proposal disproportionately favors the wealthy.
Lissa Geiger-Shulman, public policy director with the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children, said she’s optimistic that attention is being paid to child care inequities, but doesn’t think the President’s plan would reach its desired population.
“The Trump proposal seemed to most benefit those who could take advantage of tax credits, or those who could lay out money initially and then wait an entire year to receive funding or a tax credit back at the end of the year,” Geiger-Shulman said. “We know that just isn’t possible for a lot of low- and middle-income familes.”
Beth Heeb, chief operating officer with the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh, said a better way to to assist low-income families is through Child Care Development Block Grants, or CCDBGs. The YWCA receives the federal grants and subsidizes child care. Heeb said CCDBGs are important because the majority of low-income families in the region live paycheck-to-paycheck and don't have the ability to save money.
A single mother or father working minimum wage with two dependent children, for example, would take home about $1,100 a month after taxes. Heeb said when child care is factored into that, it can be very difficult financially for the family.
"If you have an infant in STAR 4, which is the highest-quality program in PA, and a preschooler in that same STAR 4 site, the cost per month of the child care alone is almost $1,800," Heeb said. "So right off the bat, that mother is starting at a deficit of over $600."
Geiger-Shulman said increasing funding directly through CCDBGs would best assist low-income families. CCDBGs provides co-payments for families based on their income level up to 235 percent of the federal poverty level.
In Allegheny County, Geiger-Shulman said about 10,000 to 12,000 children are eligible for CCDBGs. She said she’s asking the federal government to increase the state’s funding by $1.2 billion to make up for the 2014 reauthorization of the law that expanded eligibility, but didn’t include matching funding.
“Providers in our state haven’t received a rate increase in over 10 years, which actually means that providers that take in children that are subsidy-eligible, in a lot of cases, they’re actually sort of losing money compared to what they might be able to receive if they had a private pay family,” Geiger-Shulman said.
That loss, she said, creates inequity if providers are opting to take in wealthier children who won’t need subsidies.
In Pennsylvania, around 11,000 children are on the wait list to receive subsidies. Geiger-Shulman said these are families who are deemed eligible, submit documentation and then must wait an average of four months until their name reaches the top of the list. Because eligibility requires employment, many families apply right after a job offer has been made, meaning waiting isn’t an option.
“The family is in the position of either not accepting employment or having to go back on the job search,” Geiger-Shulman said. “Or they’re putting their kid in, perhaps, sub-optimal care.”
Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed $35 million for child care and about $75 million for Pre-K and Head Start programs.
Locally, Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak is pushing for the creation of a Pre-K Task Force that would assess the region’s early childhood programs. She estimated it would cost about $15 million to pay for low-income children to attend facilities considered “high-quality” by the state.
(Photo: flickr/Office of Governor Tom Wolf)