In Focus

Apr 20, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

Child Care Reauthorization Promotes Access and Stability

By Elizabeth Lower-Basch

In November 2014, with broad bipartisan support, Congress reauthorized the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) for the first time since 1996.  In addition to protecting the health and safety of children in care and improving the quality of care, the new law contains provisions aimed at making it easier for low-income working families to access child care subsidies and to keep their children in stable care even in the face of unpredictable changes in employment

Among the key provisions are:

  • Once a child has been determined to be eligible for child care assistance under CCDBG, states must consider that child eligible for a minimum of 12 months regardless of temporary changes in a parent’s work, education or training activities, or family income, as long as income does not exceed the federal eligibility levels.
  • States may not terminate child care assistance based on permanent job loss or cessation of education and training without continuing assistance for at least three months to provide time for the parents to search for a new job.

The law thus strengthens CCDBG’s dual role as a major early childhood education program and a work support for low-income families.  Children can attend child care without instability in parental employment causing additional instability for child care, and parents who temporarily lose jobs or whose hours of employment fluctuate will not lose their child care assistance as a result.

Policymakers and advocates who work on any public benefit programs should be aware of these changes, both because child care is a critical work support for low-income families, and because these changes can set the standard for other programs where states set policy regarding redeterminations and continuous eligibility.  For example, the new law requires states to describe how their redetermination procedures and policies do not require working parents, and in particular parents receiving cash assistance under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), to disrupt employment in order to comply.  Such policies should be adopted in all public benefit programs.  Other agencies that have modernized their eligibility systems to make improvements such as maximizing use of existing data and allowing clients to self-report certain data may also be able to assist child care agencies in implementing the new provisions.

The reauthorization does not guarantee new funding to comply with its many new requirements, some of which will be costly to implement.  Spending on child care assistance through CCDBG and TANF is at an 11-year low. Already, only one in six children federally eligible for child care receive assistance, and unless states are able to increase funding for child care assistance, states may serve fewer families.

States have until October 1, 2016 to comply with these provisions. While details on how these requirements will be implemented are still forthcoming, now is the time for policymakers and advocates who work on both child care assistance and other programs for low-income families to set forth a vision for what a child care system that meets the needs of both parents and children would look like, and to build support for the resources needed to realize that vision.

 

For more information, see:

  • Implementing the Child Care and Development Block Grant Reauthorization: A Guide for StatesThis guide, written jointly by CLASP and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), is designed to help policymak­ers and advocates gain a better understanding of what is entailed in fully implementing the law. It summarizes and analyzes key sections of the law, offering recommendations and cautions for states. It also includes a detailed chart compar­ing specific provisions of the new law with those of the previous law, an implementation timeline, a checklist indicating state compliance with select provisions of the law, a summary of the law, and state-by-state information on CCDBG funding and children served. The chapter

Mar 6, 2015  |  PERMALINK »

The Grand Canyon Isn't the Biggest Chasm in Arizona: Proposed Budget Widens Gap to Economic Security for Low-Income Families

UPDATE: The Arizona legislature passed a budget for FY2016 in the early morning hours of Saturday, March 7. According to the Associated Press, the budget deal included the reduction of the lifetime limit for receipt of TANF to 12 months from 24 months, as well as the elimination of all state funding for two counties’ community college systems (Pima and Maricopa), with the funding for Pinal County’s community colleges spared from cuts.

State lawmakers in Arizona are working furiously on a FY16 budget deal designed to reduce the state’s deficit. Unfortunately, Governor Doug Ducey and the Republican leadership in Arizona’s House and Senate plan to achieve these cuts by slashing funds for programs that support low-income children, families, and individuals in seeking economic security. According to reports, the proposal includes draconian cuts to community colleges and other higher education programs, cash assistance to poor families under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and child care. Reductions in these individual programs are bad enough, but this combination of cuts is especially problematic because it generates the potential for devastating effects for the future of Arizona and its labor force and economy. 

The surest path to economic security is a job that pays family-sustaining wages. And poor and low-income families need support—in the form of education, job training, child care and other assistance—as they seek to obtain and hold onto employment with decent pay. Arizona already has the eighth highest rate of child poverty among the 50 states at 26.5 percent. The rate is particularly high among Native American and Hispanic children (38.6 percent and 28.9 percent, respectively). The state can ill afford to abandon children and families who are striving for success. That’s why the proposed cuts are so concerning. 

Governor Ducey’s proposal would completely eliminate state funding for the three largest community college districts in Arizona, while also significantly cutting state support for public universities. Many low-income, minority and nontraditional students rely on community colleges as relatively inexpensive routes to getting the training, education, and skills required for career success. For instance, Maricopa Community College, which would see its state funding eliminated under the proposal, serves nearly 265,000 students annually. Of these students, half are racial or ethnic minorities, while 41 percent are at least age 25 and 72 percent attend part time. The governor’s proposal would put opportunities for career success that much farther out of reach for these and other low-income Arizonans. 

Poor families also benefit from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which is operated through block grants that allow states to determine (within guidelines) how to use the federal funds. The reported deal would slash the amount of time that the poorest parents and children could receive TANF cash assistance to meet their basic needs. Currently, Arizona provides up to 24 months of TANF cash assistance (which is already one of the shortest lifetime limits for any state); the proposal would slash that to only 12 months, which is unprecedented and far and away the shortest time limit for TANF of any state. Moreover, this time limit would apply to many cases where only children receive benefits. These cuts put children at risk of hunger, homelessness, and toxic stress that makes it harder for them to succeed in school and grow up as healthy, successful adults.

Another way to support low-income working families is by offering assistance with child care so that parents can seek and hold onto jobs while their children are being well cared for in safe and affordable settings. Governor Ducey’s proposal eliminates $4 million in funding that was just added this year to open up the child care assistance waiting list for children in low-income working families.  

Arizona policymakers would do well to consider the impact of this short-sighted budget. By drastically cutting off the support that hard-working poor and low-income people in their state need to climb up the ladder to economic security, the state’s leaders are forsaking Arizona’s overall future success. For national policymakers, a key lesson driven home by this budget—negotiated behind closed doors—is the deep risks posed by proposals to give states flexibility to alter the fundamental structure of key federally funded safety net programs.

Dec 19, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

A New Year’s Resolution: Stop the Push for Drug Testing Applicants of Public Benefits

By Randi Hall

An oft-quoted saying holds that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.   Drug testing of public benefits applicants has been repeatedly found illegal, ineffective and even unconstitutional--yet lawmakers keep coming back with such proposals.

Illegal

Georgia and Wisconsin have both proposed drug testing applicants for nutritional assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps).  However, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made clear, this is not permitted under federal law.

Ineffective

Under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, states have the authority to establish eligibility rules and have long included screening for substance abuse in the assessments they conduct as part of engaging participants in employment services.  But in recent years an increasing number of states have begun to incorporate drug screening and testing into the program’s application process. Applicants are first screened for any suspicious behaviors that may indicate substance abuse, and may be referred to take a drug test based on the results. These state laws have identified very few applicants using drugs; however, the laws have added burden and complexity to the application process and increased administrative costs.

  • From July 1 to August 1, 2014, 84 Mississippians who applied for TANF were required as part of the state’s application process to respond to a screening questionnaire  with subtle questions designed to identify people with a high likelihood of being substance abusers.   Of these, 38 were referred for drug testing based on the findings from the screening, and only 2 tested positive for drugs.
  • Tennessee’s drug testing law went into effect on July 1, 2014 and requires each TANF applicant to respond to three questions about any recent drug usage. If an applicant answers “yes” to any of the questions, he or she is referred to drug testing. Of the 812 applicants subjected to the law’s screening provision after one month of implementation, 802 ”passed” the screening and were not subject to being tested for drugs; 4 refused to participate in the questionnaire and were immediately disqualified; 5 who were subject to the drug test passed; and only 1 tested positive for drugs.
  • Kansas also implemented its drug testing requirement on July 1, 2014. Four months of results show that 5 applicants refused to be tested, 20 applicants followed through with testing and only 4 tested positive.

Unconstitutional

After two years of legal battles, earlier this month the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that Florida’s law mandating drug testing of all TANF applicants was unconstitutional.  The law, which allowed suspicion-less drug testing of all applicants for the state’s TANF program, was held as a violation of the Fourth Amendment for its unreasonable search of applicants without evidence of “a more prevalent, unique or different drug problem among TANF applicants than in the general population.” All lower courts had found the same position.  Courts had previously found a Michigan program implementing suspicion-less testing of welfare applicants unconstitutional on the same grounds. No court has yet taken up the question of the constitutionality of incorporating screening for drug use, followed by testing, into the application process for public benefits.

In spite of this history, states continue to pursue these policies.  In 2014, eighteen states proposed legislation requiring some form of drug screening of public assistance applicants. Most recently, on the same day that the Florida court ruling on testing was announced, the Michigan state legislature passed a pair of bills—HR 4118 in the House and SB 275 in the Senate—which will enact suspicion-based drug testing of applicants for temporary cash assistance under its Family Independence program.

However, the evidence from this year’s round of testing and legal cases describe a poorly fit policy based in stereotypical notions of rampant substance abuse among the poor. Such policy only serves as a barrier to low-income children and families who may be disqualified from receiving provisional assistance. The costs incurred by states to test applicants for drugs could be invested in stronger support systems for those who may battle with substance abuse but are willing to engage in work-related activities and trainings.  States should adopt a new year’s resolution of learning from the evidence and no longer pursuing these ineffective and often illegal policies.

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