Hawaii child care subsidies not keeping pace with rising costs, report says

Hawaii child care subsidies not keeping pace with rising costs, report says
Published: Oct. 28, 2016 at 6:16 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 31, 2016 at 6:18 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new report shows low-income families in Hawaii are getting far less funding assistance for child care than they were in 2001.

According to the National Women's Law Center report, Hawaii has the highest co-payments in the nation for families receiving government-funded child care subsidies.

"In Hawaii, families are still paying about 19 percent of their take home pay for child care, even when it is subsidized. And that's really high, especially for our low and middle class families," said Deborah Zysman, executive director of Hawaii Children's Action Network.

In 2001, a Hawaii family of three at 150 percent of the poverty level paid about $38 a month after subsidies to keep a 4-year-old in center-based child care.

Fifteen years later, the family would have to pay $473 out of pocket for the same care – or about 19 percent of their budget.

The state-by-state study underscores the high cost for child care in the islands and nationally, and calls on states to better offset the costs of care for families.

At 150 percent of the federal poverty level, that family of three brings in about $30,240 a year. A family of three earning $20,160, meanwhile, would have to pay $270 for child care after subsidies. That equates to about 16 percent of their income.

"We are always looking to increase the amount of money the state legislature puts into childcare subsidies and I think this report shows we need to increase the amount each family gets," Zysman said.

The Silva family of six used to live in Hawaii, but had to leave because they weren't making ends meet.

"We were struggling to keep our heads above water," said Ashlee Silva, a mother of four.

Silva said her family was forced to move out of Hawaii in 2015 because they couldn't keep up with the high cost of living, including child care.

"We had a mortgage, my husband's car payment, my student loans and we had a credit card debt," she said. "We didn't qualify for any subsidies or any financial aid."

As a full-time teacher, Silva says she was bringing home about $2,000 after taxes every month. About $1,800 of that went to child care services.

Her husband worked as a technician. "He was working overtime a lot just so we can make ends meet," Silva said.

Currently, the family of six lives in Oregon.

Silva is now a stay-at-home mom and said she only pays a little over $300 a month to care for her 5-year-old daughter.

She agreed with the report and said Hawaii needs better financial support policies for families who struggle to keep afloat with the high costs of child care.

"It's very frustrating because a lot of people need the assistance," Silva said.

Other advocates also called the report a call to action.

The study specifically looked at center-based child care, a pricier option than child care in a home setting. Advocates say more parents are undoubtedly moving to those less expensive options to make ends meet or they're relying on family to watch the kids until they're old enough for school.

That raises significant questions about the quality of learning Hawaii's youngest have access to. Studies have found quality preschool experiences have long-term benefits for students that can increase their chances of success in life.

Hawaii's child care subsidies are state and federally-funded, and advocates say tweaking them to reflect inflation is a time-consuming process that requires legislative approval.

Hawaii's subsidies are also available to fewer families than they were in 2001.

According to the center's report, the income limit for Hawaii's subsidies is $47,124, or 234 percent of the poverty level. By comparison, families earning up to 315 percent of the federal poverty level qualified for the subsidies in 2001.

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