Few Eligible Families Apply for Daycare Benefit in Southeast Connecticut

On September 1, the reimbursement rate for families receiving state subsidies to send their children to center-based daycare will increase yet again. In the South Central Region, which includes Old Lyme, families that meet the income qualifications and have an infant or toddler in full-time daycare will received $300 per week, an increase of $65 from last year.

However, for the second year in a row, no families in Old Lyme have applied and received subsidies through the Care 4 Kids program.

“What’s more of a story is that no family in Old Lyme has applied for Care 4 Kids,” said Mary Farnsworth, the director of strategy for the state’s Office of Early Childhood.

In order to apply for Care 4 Kids subsidies, a family must be at or below 50 percent of the state median income. For a family of four in Connecticut, 50 percent of the state median income is $56,275 annually. Although, Old Lyme is often characterized as a wealthy town, between 2013 and 2017 it was estimated using US Census data that about 38 children under the age of 18 in Old Lyme were living in poverty.

“We know that families in poverty reside in every town in the state,” said Maggie Adair, the director of communications for the Office of Early Childhood. “Programs like Care 4 Kids can help those families put food on the table.”  

Care 4 Kids funding does not end when children at kindergarten. Families that qualify could receive subsidies for center-based care, or even a  relative to babysit a child, until the age of 13. 

Children who receive free or reduced lunch through the National School Lunch Program would most likely also qualify to receive Care 4 Kids subsidies, said Julie Bisi, the agency data officer for the Office of Early Childhood. “The number of children receiving National School lunch would make a good proxy for how many might qualify for Care 4 Kids.”

In Lyme and Old Lyme together, 82 children received free lunch and 14 received a reduced rate for school lunch during the 2017-18 school year, according to data provided by the department of education.

It is apparent that eligible children and families live in Lyme and Old Lyme, but they are not applying to receive benefits.

Old Lyme is not alone in this. Several relatively affluent rural towns in the region have seen a downtick in children receiving Care 4 Kids benefits. In April of 2019 Old Lyme, Lyme and Chester all had zero children receiving subsidies. Old Saybrook, Westbrook and Essex had just four, six and seven respectively.

When compared with the number of children receiving free or reduced lunch, across the board, all towns have far lower rates of families receiving Care 4 Kids benefits. It is unclear whether this discrepancy is due to a cumbersome application process, or to a lack of awareness of these potential benefits.

“It is a daunting process, you have to re-determined on a regular basis [monthly] and the application is several pages long,” said April Lukasik, the president of Bright & Early, a chain of daycare and preschool centers in Connecticut that has always accepted Care 4 Kids. “We help families and walk them through the process. Once they’re in the system we are very proactive at helping them get re-determined.”

Across all five of their centers, Lukasik said between 20 and 30 percent of their children receive some kind of subsidy whether it is Care 4 Kids or a military subsidy.

“I have had some families say that the smaller centers that have a very small amount of slots do not need to go through the process to accept Care 4 kids,” Lukasik said. This can make it challenging for families who live in more rural areas to find an accepting center.

But, according to the smaller centers in Old Lyme, including the Old Lyme Children’s Learning Center, the centers have not discouraged families from enrolling, families simply have asked for the subsidy in the last few years.

“It’s not that providers are restricting, but that the families are not applying,” Bisi said.

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