After adding 7,000 children over the past few months, Louisiana is reaching its limit in a key child care aid program. Starting July 1, new applicants will head straight to a waiting list, state officials announced Monday.

Families that apply between now and July 1, however, can get in under the wire and receive benefits.

The federally-funded Child Care Assistance Program, or CCAP, helps pay the cost of child care while their low-income parents are at work, school or in job training. Children receiving the aid can be as old as 12, but the most are from birth to five years old.

State-level budget cuts and stricter eligibility requirements had previously sent CCAP enrollment into a nosedive, declining by more than 70 percent from 39,000 slots in 2008 to just 11,000 slots in April 2016.

The Louisiana Department of Education recently reversed course, easing some work requirements and quickly generating new public interest. The biggest change, which went into effect in February, reduced the number of hours that recipients must work or be in job training from 30 to 20 hours a week. State officials predicted at the time the changes would result in waiting lists.

New rules that recently went into effect mean more low-income Louisiana families are eligibl…

That happened quickly. By May, just three months after the change was announced, the rolls topped 18,000. That number is growing as families continue to sign up in advance of the July 1 deadline.

Jenna Conway, assistant superintendent for early childhood education, said her office has been working closely with child care providers and activists to determine when best to announce the waiting list. Conway said 20 other states have waiting lists. She said she expects demand for assistance will remain high and that the size of the waiting list will grow over time in tandem with the economy.

“As the economy gets better and more and more families get jobs, it puts them in a very tough position,” she said. “It’s hard to rely just on informal (child) care.”

The state will continue accepting applications until 11:59 p.m. on June 30. Applications received July 1 or later will be prioritized based on the date they are received. Those who manage to exit the waiting list and begin receiving benefits will be notified by phone, mail and email. After a year on the waiting list, families will be dropped and will need to reapply, but they will receive 30 days advance notice before their names are purged.

To qualify for CCAP in Louisiana, a family of four can earn at most $39,084 a year.

A few groups of children are exempt from the waiting list: those already receiving child care assistance, homeless children, those whose families participate in Early Head Start, those in the Strategies To Empower People program, as well as those in foster care or requiring special needs care. Applicants from these groups will be processed immediately.

The state education department plans to post frequent updates on its CCAP webpage: http://www.louisianabelieves.com/early-childhood/child-care-assistance-program.

Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier