As Georgia lawmakers wrangle over the budget, state officials are planning to expand the Childcare and Parent Services program (CAPS). The program provides child care assistance to low-income families. However, some education advocates say even with changes to the program, state-imposed budget cuts could keep it from growing.
To qualify for CAPS, parents have to meet “activity” requirements. They can do that by working or going to school. However, only certain degree programs satisfy the activity requirement. Parents working on a GED or an associate’s degree, for example, meet the standard. However, parents working on a bachelor’s degree would also have to meet a work requirement to qualify for assistance.
Recently, state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, sponsored a bill that would let parents who are working on a four-year college degree qualify for CAPS without having to satisfy a work requirement, too.
“The basic premise behind this [bill] is that for those who are trying to earn a degree and climb an economic ladder, that will allow a higher income for themselves and better opportunities for their children, the cost of child care can be a huge impediment,” Parent told the Senate’s Education and Youth committee.
However, shortly after she presented the bill, Parent announced it wouldn’t be needed.
“I learned that all great minds think alike, and it’s obviously a fantastic idea because DECAL is actually currently already working to implement that change,” she said.
DECAL is the state’s Department of Early Care and Learning. It oversees the CAPS program and will make the change on its own April 1. While CAPS proponents are pleased with the new rule, they say without more money, the program will still only serve a limited number of families.
“Currently, one out of seven kids who are likely in need of affordable child care get access to the program, and we need to fix that,” said Alex Camardelle, a senior policy analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
In response to Gov. Brian Kemp’s request for state agencies to cut their budgets by 4% this year, DECAL has budgeted for a $500,000 reduction to CAPS. DECAL Commissioner Amy Jacobs has said the money was added to the department’s budget last year, and the change won’t affect existing CAPS recipients.
“It would’ve allowed us to serve about 100 children more,” Jacobs told a House appropriations subcommittee. “This is a reduction that we thought about very carefully, but it does not impact the 50,000 [children] that we currently serve.”
Camardelle said even if DECAL had asked for more money, the Legislature would’ve had a hard time approving the request.
“We don’t have enough flexibility in our state general fund dollars to make a meaningful difference in investments in the program,” he said.
However, Camardelle said the CAPS program could receive more money from the federal government through the Child Care Development Block Grant program.