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Cost of child care an increasing burden to Hoosier families

Middle class unaware they may qualify for break
Posted: 12:11 AM, Feb 04, 2017
Updated: 2017-02-04 05:48:16Z

INDIANAPOLIS -- The cost of child care is becoming an increasing burden on Indiana families, and yet, many middle-class Hoosier parents may qualify for financial help and not even realize it.

Infant care in Indiana costs an average of $8,918 a year, which is 6% more than the price of in-state tuition for a 4-year public college, according to the Economic Policy Institute .

The annual cost of child care has increased by about $1,000 over the past five years, according to a report from Early Learning Indiana .

Beth Riedeman is a single working mom to her 3-year-old son, Gray.

She pays $420 a month for child care at Little Dove, a registered ministry on the east side of Indianapolis.

“As a single mom, I own my own home and the cost of child care is more than half of what my mortgage payment is so it's a big chunk of money," said Riedeman.

Riedeman makes about $50,000 a year, which is too much for the middle-class mother to qualify for state and federal programs such as CCDF federal vouchers.

However, she does get a discount.

Little Dove offers a sliding fee scaled based on the number of children and income.

“The cost of child care is one of the main things we run into with families as far as what they're looking for,” said Patrick Mullins, program director at Little Dove. “The first thing they ask us is do you have availability and then the next question out of their mouth is how much is it going to cost me."

Child care directors told Call 6 Investigates many people don’t realize the cost of running a facility is expensive.

Child care homes, centers, and ministries must pay for staff salaries and training, rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, as well as consumable goods like toilet paper, snacks, meals, and milk.

Many child care facilities, like Loving Hearts Learning Place on Indy’s south side, use grants, fundraising, and volunteers to try to keep fees affordable for parents.

“If we have to spread mulch on a playground or paint a classroom we ask for volunteers for that to try to keep the costs down," said Charlotte Chappell, director of Loving Hearts Learning Place. 

Loving Hearts also offers 10% discounts for military members and church members, as well as discounts for families with multiple children attending the facility.

Despite efforts from child care facilities to keep fees low for parents, the cost of child care in Indiana has gone up about $1,000 over the past five years.

“That’s not acceptable,” said Sen. Mark Stoops (D-Bloomington).

Stoops, a father of four, filed legislation that would give parents up to $500 in child care tax credits depending on their income level.

Stoops said the state is not doing enough to keep child care affordable for families, especially the middle class.

“We have a lot of programs to offset part of the costs, but there’s really not enough money there to take care of the issue,” said Stoops.

RELATED | What to consider when looking for child care

Stoops has proposed universal Pre-K, which would be funded with state tax dollars.

“It has a fiscal price tag of $160 million, and that sounds like a lot, but if you factor in a large amount of money we spend on remediation and workforce development, it’s not that large,” said Stoops.

If a family of four earns $2,572 a month (before taxes) or less, they may qualify for CCDF federal vouchers or the On My Way Pre-K program , however, it is currently only available in five counties. 

Another option for help with child care is Head Start or Early Head Start .

Southside mom Charita Stephenson said she made too much money for CCDF, but later qualified for the On My Way Pre-K program.

Now, her daughter McKenzie attends Loving Hearts for free.

“Child care is extremely expensive,” said Stephenson. “The cost would be close to $200 a week, if not more, so we’ve been blessed with a scholarship, otherwise we couldn’t afford it.”

Child care expert Mindy Bennett said many parents, especially middle-class families, may qualify for help and not even realize it.

Bennett said parents should call the Brighter Futures State Hotline at 1-800-299-1627 to find out if they can qualify for CCDF, publicly funded Pre-K, individual scholarships, sliding fee scales, and other financial assistance.

“There’s still help out there and they’re usually done by individual child care facilities, so we can really help you find programs that can help meet your specific needs,” said Bennett, senior director of Partnerships for Early Learners. “There are options out there you might not know about.”

For Beth Riedeman, her child care’s sliding fee scale helps her save money for Gray’s college.

"When we were living in Hamilton County we were paying $230 a week, so when he turned 3 it went down to $150 to $105, so if it wasn't for the sliding scale it would be a way bigger burden to pay full price," said Riedeman.

If you have a child with special needs, finding quality and affordable child care can be even more challenging.

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