Back to school means reduced fees for some parents

BC government programs launched in April and September

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Two new child care funding programs from the provincial government are set to make a positive impact on family bank accounts this month.

A group of six Salt Spring daycare and preschool providers are among facilities across the province who have been approved for the Child Care Fee Reduction Initiative. Introduced in April 2018, the program provides enhanced funding to licensed child care providers who care for infants and toddlers and for children ages three to kindergarten, and a resulting decrease to family costs.

Salt Spring Early Learning Centre, Tara Brown’s Family Daycare, Tree Frog Daycare, The Little Red School House, Little Blue Early Learning Centre and Topham Family Child Care have all been approved for the program so far. All together, the six facilities are offering reduced costs for 89 child care spaces.

Participating child care providers can reduce their parent fees by up to $350 a month for parents of children 36 months or younger in group daycares, or by up to $100 per month for kids aged three years to kindergarten. Parents do not have to enroll or apply in order to receive fee reductions as long as the facility has opted in.

While the program may not meet the promise of $10-a-day child care the NDP made in its 2017 election platform, it does provide necessary relief for struggling working parents.

“I think the new program is fantastic. I think it really does help parents get back to work faster,” said Jennifer Emekoba.

Emekoba and her husband John are the parents of three children, one of whom is currently in daycare. Their family saw their $850 monthly bill at Tree Frog Daycare decrease by $280 when the fee reduction program first rolled out in April.

Though not in a low income bracket, making the monthly payment before the funding change was still tough, Emekoba explained.   

“You look at what it costs and what you make and you have to decide what the benefits are,” she said.

The Child Care Fee Reduction Initiative includes some controls to ensure the funding is passed on to parents and not “unreasonably diluted by fee increases,” according to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Providers who applied were asked to confirm their existing fees for each type of care, as well any planned parent-fee increases for the duration of the contract term (up to March 31, 2019).

Increases deemed to be above the regional median range, or not due to a bona fide expense that was unplanned or beyond the provider’s control, could make a provider ineligible to participate. Reasons provided by the ministry include situations such as rent increases initiated by individuals that were not at arm’s length from the provider; a decision to raise fees in response to the implementation of the fee reduction; or a decision to raise fees to match other provider’s fees without any indication that this was due to a sudden and unexpected increase in operational expenses/decrease in revenue.

The rules have made some providers leery of opting in because of fears that inability to raise fees will leave them vulnerable in unexpected scenarios. Some Salt Spring child care providers have chosen not to apply. However, as of this month around 3,000 or 88 per cent of the licensed providers across the province who are eligible to apply have been approved for the program.

Parents may also be eligible for additional savings with the new Affordable Child Care Benefit that came into effect on Sept. 1 and replaced the previous Child Care Subsidy Program.

Families with children in the infant/toddler age group attending full-time licensed child care and who have pre-tax incomes of $45,000 or less per year will receive the full benefit, up to the cost of care (for a maximum of $1,250 per month). Those who make up to $111,000 will receive a reduced amount, according to how much they earn and the amount of care required.

Tree Frog’s long-time coordinator Lisa Bleskie said there was a definite sense of relief among families when the April fee reduction program launched. The extra benefit could have an even bigger impact on those who qualify.

“For a family of a child under three, they could potentially pay just the $10 per month membership fee that we charge,” Bleskie said.

As well, some people with children in the three to five age group who would not have qualified for a subsidy before will do so now with the adjusted income threshold.

Bleskie’s feeling is the subsidy benefit may take longer to realize, though, because parents have to apply themselves rather than just seeing the reduction on their invoices. They also have to agree to release their tax information. An online application process will hopefully make things easier for people.

Emekoba said in her view, affordability has been addressed by the two provincial initiatives. Accessibility is now the top issue facing local families.

“Regardless of all this funding, there are still not adequate spaces on Salt Spring,” she said, explaining that is especially the case for the infant/toddler age group or kids that aren’t yet toilet trained.

Just a few licensed spaces for the age category exist on the island. Emekoba put her son on the wait list for a full time spot when he was just a few months old and didn’t get a space until he was 21 months.

“My hopes are that now we look at how to develop services for families — not just give funding to what little bit is already there — to make sure families’ daily needs are met,” Emekoba said. “What’s really needed here is another daycare facility. Something in town and something that works for parents.”

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