ATLANTA — Georgia will add another 10,000 children to a program that subsidizes child care for lower-income families while also increasing payment rates to child care centers.
The state Department of Early Care and Learning announced the plan Monday, saying it will spend $267 million of federal coronavirus relief money through Oct. 1, 2024.
Georgia currently enrolls 50,000 children in its Childcare and Parent Services program, which subsidizes care for lower income families. The state will raise the income limit for eligibility from the current 50% of the state median income to 85% of median income. For a family of four, that means a family making up to $72,124 annually could qualify, Deputy Commissioner Elisabetta Kasfir said.
Below the limit, Georgia will still prioritize children from a dozen categories, including those it describes has having very low incomes, giving them the first crack at available spots. But the department is raising its description of very low income to 1.5 times the federal poverty level, meaning a family of four making more than $42,000 a year could qualify.
The changes begin Nov. 1. The department accepts applications on a rolling basis.
There will still be far fewer slots than eligible children, Kasfir said. Overall, there are more than 650,000 children ages 4 and younger in Georgia, according to the U.S. Census.
Georgia in May began using another $95 million in federal relief money to provide free child care to everyone in the program, covering copayments that normally fall on families. That benefit will last through Oct. 2, 2022, and also will apply to the 10,000 new enrollees. 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 are still charged for transportation, meals or other fees.
The state also will boost payments to providers for achieving certain benchmarks under its quality rating system. The department has decreed that all providers who care for CAPS-subsidized children must achieve a quality rating by the end of 2021. Kasfir said 83% of roughly 2,600 child care centers have already achieved certification.
Centers with a one-star rating will get a bonus payment of 25% above the basic rate, compared to 10% now. Those with two stars will get a bump from 20% to 35%. And programs rated with three stars, the highest level, will get 55% above basic rates, up from 40% now.
Before the federal aid, the child care program cost about $280 million a year. After the payments for the parents' share, plus the additional 10,000 places and the higher bonus payments, the program is projected to temporarily cost $425 million a year, said Deputy Commissioner for Finance and Administration Rian Ringsrud.
Kasfir said the department designed spending to expand access to care while helping providers pay for needed improvements and recover from financial losses during the pandemic.
"It helps both families and child care providers," Kasfir said.
ChildCare Aware of America found that child care centers in 2019 charged an average of $168 a week, or $8,729 per year, to care for an infant in Georgia.