By Devon Sanders, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — A House committee on Thursday approved a creative way to find an additional $10 million to try to eliminate waiting lists for children in need of subsidized child care.
Rep. Stephen F. Carter, R-Baton Rouge, authored the bill, which would take the money from an obscure fund that holds unclaimed property bonds.
The House Education Committee passed the bill unanimously, making it one of the few areas targeted for extra funding at a time when the Legislature is under pressure to make big budget cuts.
“Nobody is against early childhood care,” Carter said. “Everybody is for it. The problem is, we haven’t been able to find a way to fund it.”
The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee, where it could face greater scrutiny. The Appropriations Committee will play a central role in deciding funding levels for most programs as the Legislature attempts to deal with a projected $700 million gap.
The $10 million increase would go to the Child Care Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance to low-income parents who need to place their children in child-care centers while they work or attend school.
Currently, the program does not receive enough funding to provide for all eligible families, leading to a statewide waitlist. Households are placed on the waitlist and must reapply every year.
Since 2008, the program’s funding has been cut by $70 million.
Amy Metoyer, the early childhood coordinator for the city of Natchitoches, illustrated the struggle of parents who were on the waiting list, telling the story of a mother who makes $450 a month, yet is expected to spend $100 a week on childcare. She was on the waitlist since July 2017 and had to drop out of school when she did not receive any money for childcare.
“We do not get to as a state say we care about something if we don’t fund it,” said Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children.
Carter reported that the proposed bill would eliminate the waiting list and the leftover funding would be awarded to child care facilities around the state.
The additional $10 million would come from the Unclaimed Property Leverage Fund, which collects about $80 million a year in unclaimed property bonds.
The fund is a reserve of abandoned money and other property, including 15-year-old travelers checks and gift certificates that are at least four years old. After 10 years, the probability of funds being claimed dwindles to 1 percent, said Ron Henson, the first assistant treasurer of Louisiana.
Fifteen million dollars from the fund is already allocated to the state’s I-49 Project, which is constructing an interstate highway that spans from Lafayette to the Arkansas state line in Shreveport.
Carter said he was worried about how the bill would fare in the house appropriations committee but was remaining hopeful. He added that “we have a long way to go.”