29 Jan STATE AGENCY TESTIFIES TO SENATE HEALTH & WELFARE
Department of Human Services Accounts for Unspent Childcare Funds
Lawmakers in the Senate Health & Welfare committee heard testimony from leaders in the Department of Human Services (DHS) on Wednesday to explain why the state hasn’t spent roughly $200 million in childcare funds.
The federal block grant for childcare provides subsidy payments to income-eligible families and focuses on quality licensed childcare providers. Each year the federal government sends Tennessee $189 million from the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) to help low-income families find affordable childcare. Any unspent money must be remitted back to the federal government. In 2018, Tennessee was one of two states that returned funds.
When asked about utilization of the block grant, Commissioner Danielle Barnes admitted the program requirements were tricky. She explained that 70 percent of funds must go directly to the childcare provider, while 30 percent can go to improving licensed programs. It cannot be spent on building new facilities. “People are asking us to build childcare centers,” she said, “CCDF is very clear: there’s no money that can be spent on capital.”
With only 2,300 licensed childcare centers across the entire state, about half of Tennessee is considered a “childcare desert.” Barnes said the department plans to present legislation to help “ease regulatory burden” and figure out ways to work around most of the federal rules without impacting the safety and health of children. Ultimately, she said there just aren’t enough childcare providers in the state, despite demand.
DHS outlined several solutions in their presentation including expanding existing childcare centers, loosening business regulations, assisting individuals with the certification process, and making program applications accessible online. The state also plans to launch a marketing campaign this summer to inform more parents about the Smart Steps program, which provides federal subsidies to working parents.