Pete Nabozny, Director of Policy, The Children’s Agenda
On July 9th, County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo announced that Monroe County would make child care subsidies more affordable for families in our community. Parent fees (or co-pays) will be reduced from 35% to 25% of every dollar a family makes above the poverty threshold. According to the County, this will save 2,200 working families an average of $800 per year in child care costs. The Children’s Agenda has long advocated for lower co-pays in Monroe County, and we applaud the County for taking this significant step to better support working families with young children.
New York State’s child care assistance program aims to help low-income parents, especially those with young children, remain in the workforce. Care for young children is extraordinarily expensive ($15,000 a year for infants in center based care in New York State), and without any form of assistance, this cost could drive many low-wage workers out of the labor market. Child care assistance programs can support economic development efforts by bringing more people into the workforce, ensure children receive safe and nurturing care while their parents work, and (when appropriately designed and administered) help families achieve economic self-sufficiency.
In New York State, families receiving child care assistance who make less than the federal poverty threshold pay essentially nothing for child care. Poverty thresholds for 2019 by family size are listed below.
As households generate wages above the poverty line, their child care fees begin to increase, though the amount varies based on where the family lives. New York State allows counties to set family co-pays between 10% and 35% of all income above the poverty threshold. Stated differently, counties can charge between 10 and 35 cents of each additional dollar earned by families beyond the federal poverty level. There’s a wide variation in county policies across the state, as detailed in the map below (Monroe County’s existing 35% co-pay is reflected in map below – click the map to see exact rates by county).
A family receiving child care assistance in Monroe County is currently required to pay the highest possible co-pay at 35 cents on each additional dollar earned toward child care. This can result in a family being worse off financially despite increased earnings. Child care costs for low-income families increase dramatically while other public assistance benefits like SNAP, Medicaid, and Housing Choice Vouchers (Section VIII) phase out. This effect, often referred to as the “benefits cliff,” can discourage additional earnings and prevent low-income families from achieving greater self-sufficiency.
The County’s decision to lower child care co-pays significantly changes this dynamic. Under this new policy, a family of 3 making $35,000 per year will save $1,367 per year, while a family of 4 making $45,000 per year will save $1,925. Families transitioning from poverty toward self-sufficiency will benefit the most from this change.The chart below shows, by income level, the amount a family receiving child care assistance is required to pay toward child care in Monroe County currently, what they will have to pay under the County’s new policy, and what they would pay if state legislation (supported by The Children’s Agenda) passes next year.
Among other benefits, lowering co-pays makes child care more affordable for working families, and supports efforts to help families achieve greater economic self-sufficiency. The Children’s Agenda applauds the County’s decision to implement this change, and we hope to continue to see family co-pays decline in communities across New York State.