Mecklenburg County expands working parents’ eligibility for child care subsidy

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Many working parents in Mecklenburg County have more help with affording child care.

Starting Wednesday, more families with children under 12 are eligible for the assistance. The expansion is designed to help families whose income is above the state’s requirements for assistance, the county said. According to the county, many parents don’t qualify for North Carolina’s child care subsidy because their income is marginally over the eligibility limit or they don’t meet the policy’s work or education hour requirement.

Robert Nesbit, chief of staff for Mecklenburg County Health and Human Services, detailed an example of a single mother with a 3-year-old child. At a salary of $45,000 annually, with monthly child care costs of about $1,200 -- more than $14,000 per year -- the woman would pay more than a quarter of her salary for child care.

“Since she earns more than the State allows for a subsidy, she faces the difficult choice of scaling back hours to care for her daughter,” Nesbit said.

The new initiative would issue time-limited vouchers for up to two years to working households earning up to 300% of the federal poverty line. The county said the addition will help address “benefit cliffs” that happen when families’ wages rise above income eligibility thresholds.

It will also reduce the work/education requirement from 30 hours to 22 hours per week for households earning less than 200% of the federal poverty line.

“Child care can range from $800 to $1,500 per month,” Nesbit said. “For perspective, that’s more than a year of in-state tuition at a four-year public university in North Carolina.”

An estimated minimum of 700 children will be served by the initiative, costing an estimated $10.5 million over two years.

Channel 9′s Gina Esposito spoke with a child care facility in east Charlotte. They told her that sometimes, they are forced to turn families away because the parents cannot afford child care or make too much to qualify for a subsidy.

“We do everything we can to work with them,” said Courtney Alexander with Fairyland Institute of Early Learning.

Alexander said the cost of child care is the number one concern she hears from parents. As the pre-K director at Fairyland Institute of Early Learning, Alexander said she is constantly referring families to child care resources. One of those resources is a nonprofit that issues child care subsidies for families who needs help, with parents paying $259 a week for infant care.

“That can be a pretty sizable impact on a family’s budget. And usually, if they can’t afford it, they have to find alternate care,” Alexander said. “And alternate care is okay, but it may not be as high quality as we can offer. Because we’re really about educating children.”

Alexander said the state awarded Fairyland a child care stabilization grant, that would allow them to help families as soon as possible.

“I am happy that they have moved the threshold because now more families will qualify. And, as you know, the cost of living is going up every day.,” Alexander said. “And children need to be in care so parents go to work or go to school to improve their economic status. We’ve had at least three families benefit from that plan. Because, as you can imagine, a weekly fee, we provide a subsidy, almost 50% for those families.”

The initiative began on Wednesday and is administered by Child Care Resources, Inc. Residents can call 704-348-2181 or visit childcareresourcesinc.org to learn more about their eligibility.

(WATCH BELOW: Gov. Cooper expected in Charlotte to discuss affordable child care)