Massachusetts: 12-Month Subsidy Eligibility
Jun 22, 2009 | Child Care and Early Education
Massachusetts has reformed their child care subsidy policies to help low-income working families retain their access to child care financial assistance. Analysis by the Urban Institute finds that several states are working to improve their child care subsidy systems. Even when not the stated intent, these changes can make it easier for families to maintain stable care for babies and toddlers.
A 2005 study of the Massachusetts subsidy system documented that the average subsidy duration was well below the six-month certification period authorized by existing rules. The study revealed administrative barriers for both parents and child care providers that led to unnecessary expenditures of time and money. For example, child care center directors estimated it took two days a week of a full-time staff person to handle voucher administration. Furthermore, child care resource and referral counselors, who in Massachusetts have the responsibility to certify family eligibility and facilitate the family's contract with a child care provider, often found themselves focused on documentation and paperwork, rather than having time to support and counsel families consistent with their mission. Lengthening subsidy duration makes sense from the state perspective as well. Massachusetts found that 86 percent of families were still eligible for child care subsidies after six months. In the Urban Institute study, most respondant states reported that lengthening certification to 12 months could result in reduced administrative and staff burdens.
To align the child care subsidy program with the legislature's vision for early care and education, Massachusetts' Department of Early Care and Education adopted new regulations and released a new policy guide for the child care subsidy program in 2006, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance. Among other improvements, the state extended the family re-certification period to one year and simplified re-certification requirements. To initially qualify for the subsidy, a family's income must not exceed 50% of the state median income. However, once a family has been enrolled in the subsidy program, the family income may rise to 85% of state median income, the maximum state ceiling allowed under current federal guidelines. A number of administrative changes were adopted that work toward "continuity of care" by reducing terminations of subsidies and promoting stable care for children. A 90-day family leave policy for families who needed to take a break from using child care for personal reasons was adopted with the aim of facilitating re-entry into subsidized child care. The state has also since brought state income guidelines current to the 2008 state median income.
A follow-up evaluation of fifteen of the thirty child care centers originally studied indicates that the average child care subsidy period is lengthening as a result of the Massachusetts policy changes. The gap between the end of a voucher and its renewal improved in more than one-third of the programs. Furthermore, the rate at which vouchers were terminated or interrupted declined from 30% in 2005 to only 13% in 2007. More than one-third of the directors reported administrative savings, shorter periods of vacancy, and improved ability to predict the termination date of a family's child care subsidy. Approximately 42% of programs reported that vouchers are now more likely than before to help families achieve stable employment or schooling.
State contact information:
Corey Zimmerman, Director of Strategic Planning and Analysis
Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care
See all Charting Progress for Babies in Child Care State Examples.
Read more about the project recommendation to Use Subsidy Policy to Promote Stable, Quality Care, including research, policy ideas, and links to online resources.
Read more about the project recommendation to Promote Continuity of Care, including research, policy ideas, and links to online resources.