State Politics

Stuck for 15 years, Idaho child care subsidies to rise

Child care subsidies for lower-income Idaho families could see their first increase since 2001 under the proposed state budget.

Along with the long-delayed market rate adjustment comes rising need, as an improving economy has more Idahoans back at work – and fewer in need of food stamps, the state Health and Welfare Department told legislative budget writers Wednesday.

Lori Wolff, welfare division administrator for the department, explained the changes in presenting the division’s $188.4 million budget request for next year to the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Two-thirds of the budget is federally funded.

The child care subsidies help 7,200 children from 4,200 families each year and amounted to $25 million last year. While the state reviews market rate changes for child care costs every two years, budget cuts and belt tightening have forestalled any increase in the subsidy for 15 years.

Under existing rates, a Boise-area family that earns $1,500 a month and has a monthly child care bill of $865 pays $345 out of pocket. The market rate adjustment would drop their monthly co-pay by $100.

On average, the change would increase subsidies by $40 per child per month.

Next year’s proposed increase of $4.8 million in child care subsidies, all federal dollars, also responds to the projected higher demand created by higher employment. That employment increase is also behind the continued drop in the number of Idahoans on food stamps.

According to the Health and Welfare Department’s latest statistics, the number of Idahoans on food stamps has declined from an average of 235,500 per month in 2012 to 201,000 in 2015, with total annual expenditures of $366 million and $277 million, respectively.

Wolff, in her presentation to JFAC, showed a chart on food stamp participation over the last six years with these findings:

▪ 575,000 individuals received benefits over the six years. For all of 2015, the total number of unique recipients was 290,000, about 18 percent of the state population.

▪ The average time spent on food stamps was 13 months.

▪ 75 percent of recipients received assistance only once or twice, in crisis periods; 16 percent received assistance three times or more; five percent were long-term recipients; and four percent were continuous recipients through the period.

▪ Of the continuous recipient group, 37 percent were two-parent households with children, and 9 out of 10 of these households had earned income. About one-third were single mothers with children; 21 percent were single women, and six percent were senior couples.

The division’s proposed budget increase over last year is nearly $39 million, or 26 percent. That includes $18.5 million for the first year of the proposed, state-sponsored basic health care program for uninsured adults, to be funded from cigarette and tobacco taxes.

Another $8 million, two-thirds federally funded, will cover the first year of a three-year effort to modernize and migrate state systems that process and manage child support payments. The state processed $205 million for 416,000 parents and children annually and must move the system off the state mainframe, which will be shut down in three years.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @IDSbilld