State changes for child care payments bring uncertainty, worry

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Child care industry workers are bracing for changes coming with new rules for child care subsidies distributed by the state of North Carolina.

In October, families who qualify for government assistance will be expected to pay 10 percent of their income in health care costs.

Also, by next summer, families will be reevaluated to see if they still qualify for help. Qualifications for the program are becoming stricter with factors like living with family members working against parents.

"Parents are going to have to go to work," said Joyce Fairley with the Regional Child Care Resources & Referral. "They need alternatives so we really need to work on this issue to determine how we are going to serve these children to avoid putting parents in the position where they have to leave their children with young siblings."

Fairley's group helps connect parents with child care options in Guilford, Randolph and Rockingham counties. It's one of several agencies like it across the state that are helping families adjust to more affordable health care in the wake of subsidy changes.

Fairley said if groups like hers are not helping working families find child care options then it's likely kids will be left home alone or in the care of older siblings who are not old enough to truly be responsible their little brothers and sisters.

"A 10-year-old should not be responsible for caring for a young child less than 5 years of age," said Fairley.

Child care centers are also worried about the impact of the changes. Teri Smith of the Early Childhood Center at United Methodist Church said state subsidies allowed working families to afford high-quality care.

"I'm very sad to think there are kids that are going to drop out of good quality care situations because their kids just can't afford to choose that anymore," said Smith.

The state grades facilities on a star rating system. Higher rated facilities are more expensive but Smith said there's a reason for that.

"The cost of quality childcare there's a high cost for that," said Smith. "The higher the quality the more you have to have educated teachers and that raises the cost of care."

Child care costs will vary from family to family. In some cases, families will be asked to go from paying $20 per month to $250. Other families said their costs are being pushed into the hundreds of dollars because many elementary school age kids will be fazed out of the subsidy system.

Guilford County social workers said they feel for the parents who will no longer qualify for help but see a silver lining in the changes. Denise Hill who oversees the child care subsidies for county said changes to the qualifications should help families who have been stuck on the waiting list get help sooner.

"We are trying to do some projections for how many families this will allow us to serve off the waiting list, at this point it's too soon to tell," said Hill.

The department estimates between 600 and 800 families who benefit from the state help today will be dropped from the program once their recertification comes up between now and the summer of 2015.

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