ATLANTA — Georgia will use federal coronavirus relief money to temporarily pay all the costs of child care for 50,000 children enrolled in a program that subsidizes care for lower-income families.
The state Department of Early Care and Learning announced the plan Monday, saying it will cost an estimated $95 million and last until Oct. 2, 2022. The extra money begins with this week's payments to child care facilities and is being offered to current and new participants. The payments will be made automatically and parents don't have to do anything to enroll.
Normally, parents have to pay a designated family share of tuition in the Childcare and Parent Services program, in tiers up to 7% of their income.
Parents also normally have to pay any difference between the weekly maximum the state is willing to pay under CAPS and what a childcare facility actually charges.
An annual survey of costs by ChildCare Aware of America finds that child care centers charge an average of $168 a week to care for an infant in Georgia. DECAL estimates in that scenario that parents would save $35 a week, or $1,820 a year.
Parents will still be charged for transportation, meals or other fees.
DECAL officials say they are trying to help families whose incomes may have declined during the pandemic and help more people get back to work.
"Eliminating the family fee will significantly enhance families' access to quality child care during this time when their ability to pay child care co-payments may be impacted," Deputy Commissioner Elisabetta Kasfir said in a statement.
Employment figures show that women have been more likely to drop out of the workforce than men during the pandemic, driven in part by the need to care for children.
It's unclear how many children are being cared for outside the home now in Georgia, as compared to when the pandemic started. Enrollment in the CAPS program has stayed steady. However, the state's prekindergarten program, which served 4-year-olds, saw enrollment drop from 86,000 to 66,000. Even then, some children were attending classes online from home at least part of the time. DECAL spokesperson Reg Griffin said most of the state's 4,500 licensed child care centers are open, but at many "attendance was significantly lower than before."
Households earning less than 50% of Georgia's median income can qualify for CAPS. That means a family of four can earn up to about $40,000 and be eligible. Once enrolled, a family can remain in CAPS until it's earning more than 85% of the state median income.
The program already costs $280 million a year.