Area to Get More Than $73 Million in Child-Care Funds for Low-Income Families

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 10, 2009

Virginia, Maryland and the District will receive more than $73 million in federal stimulus funds to expand and improve child-care and immunization programs for low-income families, the Obama administration announced yesterday.

The money is part of a two-year, $2 billion initiative passed by Congress in February that gives states more money to help low-income families struggling with rising child-care costs. The money can be used to expand the number of child-care vouchers offered, pay agencies more for their services or help states deliver these services more efficiently, officials said.

In a statement, Vice President Biden said that the child-care money issued under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was designed to help moderate-income families weather the poor economy.

"Parents are worried about finding a job or keeping the job they have, and they shouldn't have to worry about affording quality child care," Biden said. "Safe, affordable, high-quality child care gives working parents the peace of mind they need to be stable, dependable employees."

He added that the money for immunizations would increase the availability of certain vaccines and funnel more money to programs that provide those services.

Experts said that states probably will use the money conservatively, as the allocation is designed to last only two years, and many states don't want to be saddled with programs they can no longer afford. Virginia will receive about $43 million; Maryland, almost $28 million; and the District, about $2.9 million.

Marianne McGhee, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Social Services, which has more than 8,100 children on its waiting list for child-care vouchers, said the state has not decided how the money will be spent but is not considering any program changes that could not be sustained once the stimulus money runs out.

"Ultimately, our focus remains on increasing the capacity of the child-care program, support to families hard hit by the economic downturn, and quality of care provided," she said.

Kristin Yochum, deputy chief of staff for the District's Office of the State Superintendent of Education, said the city planned to use the money to improve its child-care tracking system, among other changes, and potentially increase reimbursement rates to child-care providers.

The stimulus money represents a change from how child care was funded under the Bush administration. A 2007 study by the Office of Management and Budget found that in 2006, 150,000 fewer children nationwide were receiving child-care assistance than in 2000 because of flat federal funding. Subsequent budgets added $200 million a year. Advocates said the $2 billion was a first step toward erasing past shortages.

"This increase was desperately needed. . . . There have been just enormous gaps," said Joan Entmacher, director for family economic security at the National Women's Law Center, a Washington-based think tank. "For years [funding] was flat, then followed by very small increases."

Michael Thompson, president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, said the money is primarily designed to get struggling families though the recession. "It's important that people realize that this stimulus money is temporary," he said.

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