The federal government has adjusted the income level for child care assistance eligibility, allowing CNMI families to receive the aid despite the latest 50-cent minimum wage increase. When the CNMI's minimum wage increased to $5.55 an hour on Oct. 1, many lost their child care aid.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP) made the announcement during the weekend, and provided yesterday a copy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Dec. 31, 2012, letter to Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Melvin Faisao.
The two-page letter from DHHS Office of Child Care Director Shannon L. Rudisill notified Faisao of DHHS' approval of the CNMI's Child Care and Development Fund Plan amendments.
The effective date for these plan amendments is Oct. 30, 2012.
Sablan said DHHS notified his office last week that the income level for eligibility has been raised to $1,921 for a family of four.
Previously, the threshold was $1,838 per month, and some families lost the child care help after the minimum wage increase on Oct. 1 lifted their income, he said.
“Day care is expensive. Families earning minimum wage already find it hard to meet the high costs of gas, electricity, food, and other essentials. So it was important to get the eligibility standards adjusted,” he said.
Rene Reyes, operations manager at Holy Angel Child Care and Learning Center in Chalan Kanoa, said yesterday that some of their clients became ineligible for the child care aid when the minimum wage became $5.55 an hour, so DHHS' announcement is “welcome news.”
“Now, these families will be eligible again and others will be eligible for the first time. It's a big help to many families in the CNMI,” he said.
Reyes cited as an example a family that used to pay only 10 percent or $30 of the $300 monthly childcare services cost. That same family was later asked to pay more or the full amount because their minimum wage increased.
The Child Care and Development Fund plan provides subsidies to assist low-income families in obtaining child care so that parents can work or participate in education or training activities.
In fiscal year 2012, the CNMI program received $1.9 million, Sablan said.
In responding to questions yesterday, Sablan said when his office learned from the media in November that renewal applications for federally-funded child care were being rejected due to the increase in minimum wage, they immediately contacted Bob Garcia, the regional program manager with DHHS in San Francisco, California “to find out what could be done to fix this situation.”
He said what was required was DCCA, which administers the program locally, to propose an amendment to the income eligibility standards and have DHHS approve that amendment.
“DCCA Secretary Faisao submitted the necessary amendment. It was approved on Dec. 31; and HHS provided the congressional office a copy of the approval letter. In our e-mail communications, Mr. Garcia also provided us with the specific information about the increased income thresholds for eligibility, which we reported in (last) week’s e-Kilili newsletter,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune.
Eduardo Belocora, 62, said he hopes his family will also become eligible to receive child care aid for his 2-year-old son with a heart problem.
“Right now we are receiving SSI; I wonder whether we could also get this child care fund. I would ask around. I am the one taking care of my son; my wife goes to work. I would also like to work but at the same time we don't think we would have enough money to send our child to a child care center,” Belocora said.
Sablan said his office will continue to monitor this issue.
“We want to see the minimum wage increase. Families need the money. But we don’t want families to lose the child care assistance that makes it possible for mothers and fathers to go to work, knowing their children are safe and looked after,” the delegate added.
The Fitial administration has yet to comment on DHHS' decision.