With current conference on the final budget between the House and Senate underway, a new report from the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center, shows how critical the decisions made in conference will be for the state’s youngest children.

In March 2018, U.S. Congress increased funding for the Child Care Development Fund Block Grant (CCDBG) — the primary funding source for child care assistance. According to the report, North Carolina received an additional $74 million in CCDBG funds as part of the expansion; however, North Carolina lawmakers did not fully deploy those federal dollars to their purposes. Instead, lawmakers removed state commitments to child care subsidy programs, a critical tool in providing quality early childhood learning experiences to young children in low-income families. The report details the following unmet needs that persist across the state as a result of legislative choices:

  • North Carolina is serving a fraction of the children eligible to receive child care subsidies with the assistance to make quality child care affordable.  The waiting list, which reflects just those who have applied, not all those eligible, stood at 33,098 children as of March 2019. Furthermore, North Carolina is serving just 10 percent of those eligible under federal standards.
  • The number of children enrolled in high quality settings has remained stable over time. Currently in North Carolina, 17.2 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds receiving child-care assistance are in a 4- or 5-star center, while 11.6 percent of 0- to 3-year-olds receiving child-care assistance are enrolled in a high-quality center. North Carolina has set up important policies to support access to higher quality for those receiving child-care subsidies, including limits to the assistance provided to those enrolled in less than 3-star settings. However, further progress to ensure the accessibility and availability of child care for children whose families receive assistance is critical to supporting broader returns.
  • Nearly 44 percent of N.C. residents live in a child care desert where there aren’t enough providers for the young children in the community. County level analysis produced by the NC Early Education Coalition found: “There are 5.3 infants and toddlers for each licensed child care slot, well above the threshold for a child care desert. 74 counties of the state’s 100 counties have five or more infants and toddlers per slot and over 90% of these 74 counties are rural Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties. Ten counties have 10 or more infants and toddlers per slot, indicating extreme shortage.” Moreover, not only are there too few child care programs available to children in families in many communities across the state, the number of quality child-care programs is even fewer in many particularly rural communities.

  • An estimated 12,600 children could have been served. Shifts in federal and state funding in 2018 limited the impact on the child care subsidy program and its beneficiaries. North Carolina could have served an estimated 12,600 children with quality child care opportunities in a year with the combined commitment of all the federal CCDBG expansion dollars and prior levels of state appropriations.

House and Senate proposals for the next two-year budget (FY 2020 and FY 2021) continue to swap federal dollars and fail to commit additional state dollars compared to current services, holding down the state’s overall commitment to keeping child care affordable and accessible.

FY 2019-20 House and Senate budget proposals for child care do the following:

  • House: State funding for child care subsidies is replaced with TANF dollars — $7 million in the first, $5 million in the second year.
  • Senate:State funding for child care subsidies is replaced with TANF dollars —$5.4 million in the first year and $12.6 million in the second year; total allocation to child care subsidy is $6.6 million less in the Senate than the House.