Over the past year, Monroe County has implemented a number of positive reforms to the county’s income-eligible child care assistance program. Parent co-pays have been reduced considerably, eligibility for child care assistance has been extended to individuals pursuing a bachelor’s degree, and the county has developed a number of new approaches to improve the way a family can access the subsidy system and identify a child care setting.
These are important steps toward an improved child care assistance in Monroe County. One additional step county leaders can take to strengthen the child care system is improving the county’s absence reimbursement policy. Currently, Monroe County has one of the most restrictive absence reimbursement policies in New York State, and this policy has negative consequences for children and families in this community.
Child care providers have to pay staff and cover fixed costs even when a child is absent from a program, and restrictive absence payment policies may therefore deter providers from accepting subsidized children. By contrast, paying for absences encourages more providers to accept subsidized children, stabilizes the finances of child care providers, supports public health efforts, and ensures children have stable care arrangements.
The Children’s Agenda recommends that the County develop a new policy to level the playing field between private-pay and subsidized families’ access to child care by changing its absence policy, while also establishing certain safeguards to ensure public funds are being spent wisely. We recommend that the County establish a new absence reimbursement policy that includes the following components:
• Reimburse providers for up to 15 absences per child per month (12 routine, 3 extenuating), and up to 20 in a three month period (12 routine, 8 extenuating)
• Make all types of routine absences (illness, vacation, etc.) reimbursable
• Establish provider documentation requirements to track absences
The Children’s Agenda also recognizes that county officials are hesitant to implement a more robust absence payment policy without any sense of the cost of that action, and that New York’s limited data systems prevent the county from developing a concrete cost estimate.
We therefore recommend that Monroe County take advantage of a policy option that allows the county to initially limit the absence reimbursement policy to contracted providers. Monroe County should pilot this effort with a small number of child care providers and closely monitor the costs associated with reimbursing for absences over the next six months. The county will then have a much better sense of the fiscal impact of implementing a strengthened absence reimbursement policy countywide and can plan appropriately in the 2021 county budget.