Report urges state to provide child-care funding


By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

Funds are available to help Mississippi’s working poor pay for child care, a new economic report states.

The Mississippi Economic Policy Center’s report “Broadening the Base: Strengthening Mississippi’s Working Families, Businesses and Economy Through Strong Child Care Systems” makes specific recommendations on providing funds to aid working families.

The report was released at a Feb. 26 news conference sponsored by the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative and held at the United Methodist Building in Jackson. The Child Care Initiative commissioned the study. Carol Burnett, a clergy member of the Mississippi Conference, is executive director of the initiative.

Mississippi appropriates enough state money to receive a 3-to-1 federal match, up to the capped amount. Additionally, Mississippi has transferred 20 percent of its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families surplus to the child care certificate program,” said Ed Sivak, executive director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center.

Child care advocates hope the report gives a boost to two bills recently passed by the Mississippi House of Representatives as they face action in the Senate. House Bill 1077 allows the transfer of TANF funds to child care certificates, while HB 1111 creates a grant program for child care funding.

Sen. Robert Jackson supports the efforts. “If working mothers or heads of households can’t get child care, they can’t get a job,” he said.

Several of those attending the new conference were directors of child care facilities. They said many of their clients have had to pull their children out of day care after the state cut off certificates because of a lack of funding.

“We send parent after parent who come to our center to apply for certificates,” said Pat Gregory, director of New Dimensions Child Development Center in Jackson. “They’re told there is no more money, and they must get on a waiting list.”

Sivak pointed out that Mississippi has not used between $19.5 million and $30 million available federal dollars to support efforts to get and keep Mississippians working. “This money could be used to support child care for working families,” he said.

The study recommends the state:

• Identify low-income child care as a priority funding area in the Consolidated Plan for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for Mississippi and its entitlement cities.

• Explore options to maximize the potential of  TANF dollars through transfers to the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) and direct expenditures to increase child care options for children currently not served by the child care subsidy program but living in families with incomes below the program’s eligibility limits.

• Pursue Child Care Access Means Parents in School funding for every university, community and junior college in the state. These funds could expand access to child care in multiple low-income communities throughout the state. Simultaneously, low-income working families could upgrade their skills to earn higher wages.

• Create or identify a pool of funds to facilitate the improvement and stability of low-income child care centers through Mississippi Child Care Quality Step System.

“Strong child care systems make a difference for families, employers and ultimately the state’s job creation efforts,” Sivak said. “By working together across agencies and sectors, Mississippi can build a strong child care system that supports family efforts to go to work and helps businesses retain their key employees.”