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What is in Glenn Youngkin’s child care plan?

Youngkin waves as he enters a building
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Gov. Glenn Youngkin enters the Patrick Henry Building on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023 in Richmond.

More details expected during the governor’s Dec. 20 budget proposal presentation

Last week, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced plans to invest close to $900 million in early childhood education across the next biennium — which he said would represent a new annual state investment of $180 million annually. It was an early peek at his upcoming budget proposal, which he will formally present to state lawmakers later this month.

The Child Care Subsidy Program is slated to receive the largest investment. The program will be hardest hit by the loss of federal pandemic-era relief funds that are slated to run out next summer; without additional investments, the Virginia Department of Education estimates over 30,000 children in the program would lose care.

The governor’s plan would keep expanded eligibility for the program at 85% state median income, following what started as a temporary expansion during the pandemic.

However, low-income families participating in the program would pay more for child care under the governor’s proposal. This would represent a major change, as copays for families with incomes at or below the 100% federal poverty level ($30,000 for a family of four) were eliminated earlier this year.

“In order to stretch the program as far as we could, we felt it appropriate for all families to pay something,” Youngkin told VPM News following the announcement. “And it was sized to federal guidelines to make sure that of course it wasn't going to be too much. Some — albeit modest — copay is in each of the income brackets.”

According to the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission, families in the CCSP are currently paying about 2% of their annual income on child care; under Youngkin’s proposal families in the lowest income bracket would instead pay up to 7% according to VDOE — which is the federal limit. VDOE has not yet released specific figures showing exactly how copays would change, however – and they don’t plan to until after July 1, 2024, according to a spokesperson from the department.

Former Virginia Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, who sponsored the 2021 legislation to expand CCSP eligibility to middle-income families, is concerned about charging low-income parents higher subsidies.

“If there's too many fees added … we essentially could be reversing the progress and shutting out children and families who are the ones that need to benefit and have already benefited the most from these early learning opportunities,” Filler-Corn said.

Filler-Corn’s 2021 legislation also temporarily expanded CCSP eligibility to families with parents looking for work. However, a recent JLARC report stated that “the program allows these individuals to take up a subsidy slot indefinitely,” and that “some local department staff believe the absence of a time limit has resulted in some parents saying they are looking for work but not doing so in earnest (or at all), which reduces slots available for parents working or participating in a training or education program.”

According to the VDOE, families will now have to either be working, in school or job training or be actively looking for work and find work within 90 days to qualify – and if they lose a job, they have 90 days to find a new one.

“By expanding the requirements that parents work in order to participate in this plan … we're focusing our considerable investment on parents who are working to keep all of those balls in the air as they juggle them,” Youngkin said.

He pointed out that nationally, 46% of mothers who remain unemployed having left the workforce in 2021 left due to child care issues.

“This is about families, this is about moms,” Youngkin said. “Virginians shouldn't have to worry about getting their children the care they need when they're at work. And unfortunately, so many do.”

Youngkin’s plan will also create a $25 million fund for capital investments to help create “hubs” in child care deserts and fund a total of 3,000 additional child care slots. He pointed to a recent collaboration in Southwest Virginia as an example.

“We believe this model is one that can be replicated across the Commonwealth to those areas that need it most,” Youngkin said.

The proposal will also ensure unused funds earmarked for the Virginia Preschool Initiative, another early childhood program, are spent on early childhood education instead of reverting back to the general fund.

Karin Bowles, vice president of strategy with the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, said reasons why the VPI funds might go unused vary — but sometimes has to do with classroom space not being available, since the program is primarily delivered through school divisions. Other times, she said, localities have a hard time coming up with the required local match.

“We believe that funds that are designated and appropriated for early childhood purposes should stay in the early childhood space,” Bowles said. “Those unused funds could go a long way.

Megan Pauly covers education and health care issues in the greater Richmond region.