A state-issued benefit established during the COVID-19 pandemic will soon expire, placing an increased strain on families with young children.
In May 2022, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) announced it would waive co-payments for publicly funded childcare. The $50 million investment was designed to help families save money while still ensuring childcare providers would receive their full amount of funding. When the governor signed the order, the directive was that the assistance would continue until the funding expired. There was no specific timeline as to when that would occur.
About 90,000 children statewide were receiving PFCC at the time, each living at or below the Federal Poverty Guideline.
Now, Step Forward has confirmed the benefit that once helped families afford childcare will end in July.
“Children living in poverty are not just a statistic, though,” Dr. Thea Wilson, Step Forward’s Vice President of Children and Families, said. “They are a generation at risk. We have a moral obligation to ensure each child has the opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of their family’s income level.”
The high cost of childcare is a significant barrier for vulnerable families nationwide and here at home. According to a recent study from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the cost of childcare has reached an all-time high, causing significant hardship for many. The study found childcare costs have increased by more than 40 percent in the last decade, making it increasingly difficult for parents, especially vulnerable families, to afford quality care for their children. The group’s research claims the average cost of full-time childcare for an infant in a center-based program neared $10,000 per year, which is more than the average cost of in-state college tuition. For families living in poverty, the cost is prohibitive, especially for those who have to pay for childcare while earning minimum wage.
“As a result, many vulnerable families are forced to make difficult choices, such as leaving the workforce to care for their children,” Dr. Wilson explained. “This can have a significant impact on their economic well-being, leading to increased poverty and economic inequality.”
The National Association for the Education of Young Children added that the high cost of childcare disproportionately affects families of color and people living in rural areas.
“That report in particular highlights the urgent need for policymakers to take action and make childcare more affordable and accessible for all families,” Jessica Reardon, Step Forward’s Head Start Home Based Coordinator, said.
Step Forward’s Home-Based program offers Head Start families the opportunity to educate their children in their own home under the guidance of the Head Start program and a weekly visit.
“Families are facing additional burdens as the cost of living has been increasing for years,” Reardon said.
The waiver of publicly funded childcare copayments ending will impact many of the families who attend Step Forward’s collaborative childcare centers.
“By not paying it, it helped at home,” Denise Johnson said.
Johnson’s children attend Good Beginnings in Maple Heights.
“I was able to not work as much. I still worked my 40 hours a week, but I was able to be at home with the kids. Now, I may have to pick up a shift here and there.”
Johnson is monitoring her budget closely. She is concerned about the $260 per week she’ll have to start paying in July.
“If my copay goes up, one of the kids may have to be removed and the little one may have to go part time. If she has to go part time, then I have to change my schedule at work. I’m going to have to get off at 3:00 p.m. or 3:30 p.m to pick her up,” Johnson explained.
Families having to budget for their copays again will impact centers, too.
“That burden is going to be so huge on childcare centers, to chase down the money so we can get full payment and run successful childcare centers,” Michael Ingram, the Education Coordinator at Bedford Heights Daycare, told Newschannel 5.
Ingram’s center is also one of Step Forward Head Start’s collaborative sites. He is keeping a close eye on the 2024-2025 state budget that could expand elibility for publicly funded childcare from 142-percent to 160-percent of the federal poverty level. That expansion would open the PFCC program to about 15,000 more children.
“It opens the pot to more people, but it doesn’t address the copays,” he explained. “Say you’re at the 157th percentile, just below the limit, the copay is going to be astronomical and huge compared to what it has been in the past.”
After US Inflation hit a 13-year high in June 2021, consumers nationwide have been reporting that they are struggling to make ends meet, especially with high prices for healthcare, groceries, utilities, food and housing. The U.S. Census Bureau confirms that the overall poverty rate has increased year over year.
“All of this illustrates why Community Action Agencies like Step Forward are vital in the community,” Dr. Wilson advocated. “By providing services like a no-cost Head Start program to income-eligible families, we not only level the playing field for our youngest learners, but we invest in the future of Cuyahoga County.”
Step Forward’s mission is to propel educational attainment and economic self-sufficiency for multiple generations throughout Cuyahoga County. The agency does that by addressing the immediate needs of individuals and families and by helping build long-term skills to transform their lives through early childhood education programs, adult skills training and more. Head Start is offered at nine directly operated centers in Greater Cleveland, at one of the dozens of collaborative sites, or through the agency’s home-base program.
“Strength is not found in refusing to ask for help, but in having the courage to admit when you need it and reaching out for that support,” Dr. Wilson said.
Watch the news story from Newschannel 5 here:
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