Struggling Maryland Families Get Less Child Care Help than Other States

February 15, 2017 by Christopher Meyer in Blog, Economic Opportunity, Education

The cost of child care is on the rise around the country, and Maryland families have it especially hard. Our child care costs are the fifth highest in the country, with families paying nearly $14,000 per year to keep an infant in good hands while parents work. That’s why Maryland lawmakers have been calling on the governor to increase our state’s investment in child care assistance and why two bills this year could help bring child care assistance more in line with costs in the marketplace.

By Airman 1st Class Hunter Brady. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

By Airman 1st Class Hunter Brady. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2015, about 10,000 families in Maryland were better able to afford child care thanks to the state’s child care subsidies—which means thousands of children experience a safe, engaging environment and thousands of parents are able to go to work each day—but inadequate funding and high fees still put child care out of reach for too many families. We should invest more so that the high cost of child care doesn’t stand between working parents and their jobs.

A recent report from the National Women’s Law Center highlights some of the ways current child care assistance system lets Maryland families down:

  • Many struggling families don’t qualify. Maryland’s eligibility cutoff for a family of three is less than $30,000—just one-third of the typical income for a family of that size. Maryland has the lowest eligibility threshold in the United States, measured as a share of median income. This translates into a large number of families who struggle to make ends meet but can’t receive any help.
  • Even families getting help pay high fees. A Maryland family of three taking home $20,160 per year is expected to pay $2,928 annually toward child care, unless they receive certain other forms of public assistance. That fee is second only to Hawaii’s, and is $912 per year more than what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers affordable.
  • Low payment rates limit access. The base payment rates the state has approved for most child care facilities aren’t enough to cover care at the vast majority of centers. When the state refuses to pay the full cost of care, parents are left with the bill. Because parents who receive assistance generally can’t afford to pay, they are effectively denied access to the majority of child care centers. The federal government has warned the state that its payment rates fall short of guidelines.
  • Thousands qualify, but still receive nothing. As of late 2016, 3,902 children were eligible for child care assistance but were instead on a waiting list because funding was not available. While these children wait on the list, their parents must find a way to pay high fees, rely on substandard care, or in some cases have difficulty keeping their jobs.

Gov. Hogan’s proposed budget for the budget year beginning July 1 includes a $3.3 million increase in support for child care assistance, which is a step in the right direction but not a solution to the challenge. There are also two bills under consideration in the General Assembly that would take the first steps toward increasing reimbursement rates – requiring state agencies to review the rates and come up with a plan for raising them to meet national standards.

At a time when many families face child care costs that exceed tuition at public universities, it is clear that we must do more to ensure that all Maryland children have a safe, developmentally enriching place to go while their parents work. While the state’s current fiscal difficulties put pressure on many of the critical public investments Marylanders rely on, investing in child care is a smart choice for our economy. If we capped families’ child care costs at 10 percent of income—the amount the federal government considers affordable—it would save families raising an infant more than $5,000 per year and add $4.4 billion to our state economy.