WASHINGTON — Just 12 percent of children eligible for federally subsidized child care got it last year, the Department of Health and Human Services reported Wednesday as officials lobbied for more money in the coming budget.
The number of children served inched up from 1998, thanks largely to states using more welfare money for child care. But advocates worry that scarce dollars mean many families, particularly the working poor, do not get the help they need.
"These new findings demonstrate that too many working families are still struggling with the high cost of child care," President Clinton said in a statement. "We must ensure America’s families have access to affordable, quality child care so they can balance their responsibilities both at work and at home."
HHS Secretary Donna Shalala also touted the report on Capitol Hill on Wednesday as she pressed for more child-care money.
The Clinton administration has pushed for massive increases in child-care spending since the 1996 welfare overhaul requiring many single mothers who were on welfare to get jobs.
Under the federal program, states offer subsidies on a sliding scale, with the aid phasing out as a family’s income grows. Parents can use the subsidies to send their children to a child-care center or to pay a neighbor, friend or relative to care for them.
On Wednesday, Shalala urged Congress to approve a $817 million increase in this program as lawmakers enter final budget negotiations. That is a significant increase but much more modest than the large-scale child-care programs President Clinton proposed in 1998 and 1999.
In 1999, more than 14.7 million children were eligible for child-care subsidies using federal standards, but fewer than 1.8 million children got the help, HHS said in its annual report. That compares with just over 1.5 million in 1998.
Participation rates varied widely across the country, from 5 percent of children in Connecticut to 25 percent in West Virginia. Washington state’s rate was 15 percent.
Under federal standards, families are eligible for the subsidies if their incomes are below 85 percent of their state’s median income.
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