Vermont Takes Action To Improve Child Care Assistance Program
Sep 15, 2009
By Teresa Lim
Vermont's current efforts to revise the state's child care assistance program offer a promising example of how quality improvements can be made to subsidy policies using state and federal stimulus funds. The financial committee in the state's Legislative Joint Fiscal Office recently approved a plan that provides greater financial support to low-income families and providers participating in the state's child care assistance program. The proposed plan follows in the wake of approval by the state legislature to appropriate $3.3 million in general state tax dollars and $1.5 million in economic recovery funds to restructure the system.
Under the plan, more low-income families would be able to receive a full subsidy that covers the complete cost of child care; a parent copayment would not be required. The plan revises the program's income eligibility requirements, which have remained unchanged in nearly a decade, to reflect the current federal poverty level. In addition, payment rates to center-based and family child care providers are increased. This raise includes enhanced payment rates given to providers that offer infant care or participate in the state's quality rating system, STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS). The plan increases the base payment rate to infant providers from $129/week to $137/week. Infant providers participating in STARS would receive even higher payments. For instance, infant providers that receive five "stars," the highest quality rating, would receive $192/week, over a 20 percent increase from the current rate of $155/week.
Given these improvements, the plan eliminates two supports currently offered to increase the supply of infant/toddler care: reserved infant slots for subsidy-receiving families and infant/toddler grants. Infant providers affected by these cuts may apply for a Strengthening Families Grant that the plan additionally creates. During the first 18 months of the plan's implementation, priority for the grant is to be given to these impacted infant providers. The purpose of the grant is to support programs that provide high-needs care, such as infant care.
Vermont's plan now moves over to the state legislature's rules committee. If approved by the committee, implementation of the plan is expected in January 2010.