A state panel Thursday recommended easing eligibility rules for low-income families to qualify for child care aid amid a 68 percent drop in enrollment.

The program is called CCAP, which stands for Child Care Assistance Program.

It helps pay for the cost of child care for children from birth to 4 years old while parents are at work, school or in job training.

However, household enrollment has nosedived from over 39,000 in 2008 to just under 13,000 today, a 68 percent drop amid state budget problems.

Trying to reverse that trend, the Early Childhood Care and Education Advisory Council endorsed steps aimed at making it easier for families to qualify.

The proposal now goes  to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which last year approved higher reimbursement rates and other steps suggested by the council.

Under the key change, recipients would be required to work or be in job training and average of 20 hours per week, down from 30 now.

The state Department of Education initially suggested reducing the requirement to 25 hours.

But Melanie Bronfin, a member of the council, said that would leave only Louisiana and seven other states with weekly work requirements of 25 hours or more.

"We are still way out of whack," said Bronfin, who is executive director of the Louisiana  Policy Institute for Children, a statewide group.

"I wish we would go down to 20 hours today," she said. "Even at 20 we would still be one of the stricter states."

In another area, low-income families with special needs children would be required to work or be in job training an average of 15 hours per week.

"This should help more families become eligible," said Jenna Conway,  assistant superintendent for early childhood education in the state Department of Education.

A third change would allow fulltime students or those in job training full time to be eligible for the assistance.

The changes approved by BESE last year, which took effect in January, trimmed out-of-pocket expenses for most low income families by 60 percent, liberalized eligibility rules and were financed by a federal grant.

"We started to see some more money go out the door," Conway said.

Under those rules changes, families are eligible for at least  one year regardless of life changes; payments for pre-kindergarten students were increased 23 percent and families in poverty were made exempt from any co-pays.

Most households pay a portion of child care costs.

The council's job is to improve child care in Louisiana, and it is helping to oversee implementation of sweeping changes in the state's  child care system approved in 2012.


 

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