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As Budget Pieces Shift, Child Care for Vulnerable Kids at Risk

Critics contend a freeze on child care subsidies in Nebraska would hinder the future academic success of vulnerable children. (Pixabay)
Critics contend a freeze on child care subsidies in Nebraska would hinder the future academic success of vulnerable children. (Pixabay)
April 3, 2017

This is the third in a series of reports that examines Nebraska’s budget priorities: who stands to benefit and who could lose out?

Note: From time to time we are able to provide Spanish versions of our stories, sent separately. This is one of those stories. Please advise if you would like to receive Spanish language content.

LINCOLN, Neb. – A plan to freeze child-care subsidies is one of the latest maneuvers from Nebraska lawmakers who are working to piece together a balanced budget.

Legislative Bill 335 would defer any further increases to child care providers who are receiving state subsidies for 18 months.

John Cavanaugh, chief operating officer for the advocacy group Holland Children's Movement, says these providers are serving families whose low wages would not cover the cost of child care without subsidies.

"It's a direct result on child care quality for low-income, working poor families, which we know are the most vulnerable and most at-risk children in the state of Nebraska," he states.

Lawmakers supporting the bill note it will hold the rate for subsidies, not cut them, and contend tough choices have to be made all around to address an estimated $895 million revenue shortfall in the next two-year budget.

Nearly $7.5 million are estimated to be saved by the measure in the upcoming fiscal year.

The freeze also could impact wages for child care providers, who Deb Ross, president of Nebraska Head Start, notes are some of the lowest paid workers in the state, and often have no benefits.

She says ensuring children have the best start possible should be a top priority for Nebraska.

"Child care providers take care of our children every day while we go to work and we depend upon them to do an excellent job with our children – keep them healthy, safe, learning, happy,” she stresses. “And we're putting that in jeopardy by not allowing for an increase in subsidy."

Cavanaugh adds a freeze undermines the work done over the past decade to improve child care compensation and quality, and it hinders the future academic success of low-income children.

"These are the children who generally will show up at kindergarten with serious deficits, and they never catch up,” he states. “They don't read at the third-grade level, and they are often school dropouts."

Nearly 30,000 children receive care through funding from the Child Care Subsidy Program.

Next Monday, our series will examine the budget's impact on property taxes, and calls for reform.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NE