Child care voucher program to expand dramatically, governor says

By Benjamin Hardy

Governor Hutchinson on Thursday announced that an expansion of federal child care funding recently authorized by Congress will allow Arkansas to expand its child care voucher program by 70 percent, serving up to 3,800 additional children from low-income homes. About 5,300 children are served through the program today, the governor’s office said. 

The child care assistance program is administered through the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education, an arm of the state Department of Human Services. It includes programs for infants and toddlers, pre-K and, for children up to age 12, afterschool and summer programs. Families must have household income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level to qualify, and at least one parent must work 30 hours or more per week. 

Congress boosted the funding available for child care block grants to states by $5.8 billion when it passed a two-year budget deal in February, a $2.37 billion boost above the previous year. The Center for Law and Social Policy, a nonprofit focused on anti-poverty policy, has more information.

Currently, there are about 2,000 eligible children on a waiting list, Hutchinson said. The enhanced federal funds will allow those needs to be met and then some.

Parents who wish to apply for assistance should contact their local DHS office, download an application here or contact the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education at 1-800-322-8176.

The governor’s press release:

“Governor Hutchinson Announces $26 Million in New Federal Funds to Expand Child Care Assistance Program to Thousands of Families

Will eliminate the current waitlist for assistance

LITTLE ROCK – With $26 million in new federal child care block-grant funds coming to Arkansas, the Department of Human Services (DHS) can provide child care assistance for up to 3,800 additional children from low-income families – enough to eliminate a waiting list for assistance and still have available funding. 

This increases the number of children served through the DHS Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education by 70 percent. Currently, 2,056 eligible children are waiting for assistance because of past funding constraints. 

“I am grateful that Congress and President Trump saw fit to send more money back to the states,” Governor Asa Hutchinson said. “Success in life depends to a large degree on the quality of education early in life. This additional funding increases the number of children who will benefit from our first-rate early childhood programs and helps parents who are working or going to school.”

About 10 percent of the $26 million must be used for professional development, infant/toddler initiatives, and for the improvement of the quality of child care in the state. 

The other 90 percent will go into the block-grant program, which is commonly called the “child care voucher” program, and directly serves families across the state. More than 5,300 children statewide are currently served through infant/toddler, pre-K, after-school and summer programs.

“Arkansas has strong, high-quality early childhood programs, so it is exciting to know that we will be able to provide more hard-working families access to those services,” said Tonya Williams, director of the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education. “Research shows that the earlier you get children into high-quality learning programs, the better they will do as they progress through school.”

To be eligible to receive child care assistance, there must be at least one child in the home age 12 or younger, and the household income cannot be above 200 percent of the federal poverty level. At least one parent must work at least 30 hours per week, go to school full time, or be enrolled in a certificate or training program. 

Programs that participate in the child care voucher program must also participate in the state quality improvement and rating system for child care, which ensures children are in high-quality educational settings.

The additional block grant funding is part of the two-year budget deal that increased the Child Care Development Block Grant funding by $5.8 billion. Congress approved the bill, and President Donald Trump signed it in February.”

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