By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – A child care provider group said the state does not spend enough on child care and does not wisely spend the funds it does have.
“The needs of so many low-income children are not being met,” said Carolyn Todd, director of a Senatobia day care center.
Todd, along with Melissa Cox, director of a now closed Heavens’ Treasure Day-Care in Fulton and Lynne Black of the Little Leap Academy in Tupelo, were among the speakers at a news briefing held Thursday in Jackson by the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative.
They said two programs run by the state Department of Human Services are not filling the needs of low-income families. Carol Burnett, executive director of the initiative, said 13,000 children are on a waiting list to receive certificates to help pay for child care.
She said to serve those children would cost an additional $39 million while it would cost about $258 million to serve the 86,043 children from families who are eligible for assistance under federal guidelines, but are not receiving it.
She said all the state spends is $7 million to pull down matching funds for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program and for the Child Care and Development Fund. Together, those two programs provide subsidies for child care for more than 48,585 children (66 percent under age 6) at an annual cost of $82.8 million, including the state matching funds.
Head State provides services to an additional 27,300 children from poor families, according to Burnett.
While a long-term fix is needed to provide additional early childhood education, she said in the short term, Mississippi officials could free up additional funds for child care.
For instance, federal guidelines call for 4 percent of the funds to be spent ensuring child care quality. The state spends 11 percent, she said. By dropping to 4 percent, she said $5.8 million would be available to provide licensed child care to 2,000 children.
Julia Bryan, a DHS spokeswoman, said the agency invests “dollars in professional development initiatives proven to improve the quality of child care and increase the school-readiness of enrolled children” resulting in “child care assistance that supports the state’s current workforce, but also provides the state’s future workforce with the early care and education necessary for success in school and later adult life.”
Burnett questioned why additional money is not being spent on child care after DHS said it could save $9 million by taking over administration of the program from the state’s planning and development districts. Bryan said about 1,400 children have been added to the program since January when DHS took it over.