BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Any parent knows child care can be expensive. That's why each year, every state receives federal funds to help low income parents pay for it.
In our state, the money goes to the Mississippi Department of Human Services, which has for years subcontracted with organizations around the state to issue vouchers that the state calls child care certificates. But Carol Burnett, Director for the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative, says that's about to change.
"DHS has decided that they're going to handle it themselves, and eliminate that middle layer of administration. And DHS estimates that they're going to save about $8 million by doing this."
That 'extra' money means more vouchers will be issued to parents - As many as 3,200 additional child care certificates.
"Right now we have 13,000 children in Mississippi on the waiting list for one of these child care certificates," explains Burnett. "And we're serving only a small percentage of kids in this state that qualify for this help. And so every way you look at it, it's an improvement for families and children because it's going to serve more kids."
DHS is making another change, as well. Beginning in February, parents can hang on to their vouchers for a year at a time. Previously, parents had to apply every six months, which created a lot of turnover in the program.
"So that one year of service will stabilize services, reduce interruptions in service, which means reducing interruptions in child care arrangements for children . . . which is good," according to Burnett.
Parents still have the freedom to choose where to use their child care certificates, as long as the child care provider participates in the program. And DHS will still use a sliding fee scale to determine how much parents are eligible to receive.
"It is a tremendous victory," says Burnett. "And within the immediate set of actions DHS can take, to improve things in the short term, this is the best thing they could do."
The extra certificates couldn't come at a better time. Burnett says last May, 4,000 children had to be cut from the program due to federal funding cuts. Again, the changes take effect in February.