Arkansas approved to offer child care help to child care workers, adoptive parents

Grayson Smith, then age 2, works his way through a puzzle at Butterflies & Frogs Childcare and Preschool in Fayetteville in this May 5, 2020 file photo. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which in June 2023 ranked Arkansas as No. 43 nationally in overall child well-being, made access to child care the foreword of the 2023 report, highlighting data that isn’t directly factored into a state’s child well-being score. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
Grayson Smith, then age 2, works his way through a puzzle at Butterflies & Frogs Childcare and Preschool in Fayetteville in this May 5, 2020 file photo. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which in June 2023 ranked Arkansas as No. 43 nationally in overall child well-being, made access to child care the foreword of the 2023 report, highlighting data that isn’t directly factored into a state’s child well-being score. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

Arkansas has received approval to extend financial assistance with child care costs to employees of child care centers and to foster parents who have become adoptive parents, the state Department of Education announced last week.

The state's Child Care Assistance program, funded through a federal block grant, primarily provides assistance to families earning up to 85% of the state's median household income.

According to a chart on the Education Department's website, that cutoff is about $5,274 a month, or $63,288 a year, for a family of four.

Regardless of income, however, help is now also available for workers at child care centers that participate in the Child Care Assistance Program, as well as foster parents who become adoptive parents.

While income guidelines are waived for people who fall in those two categories, income must be verified. Households that declare assets of $1 million or more are not eligible.

The expansion was made possible by a waiver recently approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to an Education Department news release.

"I'm proud that Arkansas is the most pro-life state in the country, but being pro-life doesn't end once a child is born," Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in the release.

"Arkansas will soon be one of the few states in the country that offers child care support for adoptive parents and child care employees. This is huge for families struggling with child care costs – and the exact kind of pro-life policies my administration will support."

Paul Lazenby, executive director of Arkansas Early Childhood Association, said the expansion "will be just a huge benefit to all of our childcare teachers and staff."

"It's very exciting," he said. "It is a huge benefit to teachers who are working in childcare, but they also need childcare for their own children."

According to the Education Department, Arkansas receives a Child Care Development Block Grant of more than $100 million each year.

The LEARNS Act, the education overhaul championed by Sanders, transferred responsibility for administering the program to the Education Department from the Department of Human Services.

To be eligible for the assistance, parents, including child care workers and adoptive parents, must work or participate in education or job skills training for at least 30 hours per week. The child care must be provided by one of the more than 1,400 child care facilities participating in the program.

My Ly is a Report for America Corps member. Information for this article was contributed by Cynthia Howell of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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