ANNAPOLIS – Copayments for parents receiving child-care subsidies could increase under a regulation the Maryland Department of Human Resources has proposed to help offset its budget constraints.
“We think this is the most responsible thing to do,” said department Secretary Christopher McCabe.
Child care for about 31,000 children is subsidized through the Purchase-of-Care program, an income-based program.
On Nov. 17, the Department of Human Resources will publish a regulation on the Maryland Register that, if adopted after a 30-to-60-day comment period, would raise the amount parents contribute to their child care – saving the department about $1 million a month.
“There’s no way in the world anybody can look at it and be happy about it. It’s horrible,” said Clinton Macsherry, public policy director for the Maryland Committee for Children. “But given the financial constraints the Child Care Administration finds themselves in, it may be the best option at this point.”
Parent copayment amounts differ in different areas of Maryland based on income and the cost of child care, so the amount of the increases will also vary.
Statewide, the proposed increases range from $19 per month for families at the lowest income level to $90 per month for families at the highest income level, according to documents given to the House Ways and Means Children and Youth Subcommittee.
Copayments now range from 1 percent to 34 percent of the cost of care. Under the new regulation, they would range from 5 percent for the lowest-income families to 50 percent at the higher-income levels.
“It’s hard to quantify pain, but it’s going to cause a lot of problems for folks,” Macsherry said. “Are some people going to be forced to find less-expensive and less-safe options? Probably.”
“It’s a sad, sad product of the fiscal situation.”
The budget for the Purchase-of-Care program was cut almost 19 percent from $134 million in fiscal year 2003 to $109 million for fiscal year 2004.
The budget crunch forced the department to start a waiting list for the program in January. Now increasing copayments is the only way to avoiding taking subsidies away from children already in the program, according to Linda Heisner, executive director of the Child Care Administration.
“Frankly, that’s the only other alternative we have,” she said.
Since the regulation would take effect in February 2004, savings would total about $5 million in fiscal year 2004 and about $13 million in fiscal year 2005, Heisner said.
Since January, Purchase-of-Care program applicants who are not receiving public assistance are placed on a waiting list numbering about 8,000 people McCabe said.