By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Thousands of low-income Missouri parents would see their state child-care subsidies reduced under a budget plan a state Senate committee passed Tuesday.
The plan would reduce monthly child-care subsidies for about 6,600 children while extending benefits to an estimated 570 children whose parents currently earn too much to qualify for state-subsidized care.
The changes would save about $1 million in the proposed $23 billion operating budget for next year approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. But the panel chairman, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, said the greater goal is to provide a less-abrupt phase-out of benefits for working parents who get promotions and pay raises.
"People at the very top (of eligibility) say, "I could have gotten a raise, but I didn't get a raise because if I make $1 more I was going to lose my benefit,'" said Schaefer, R-Columbia. "We need to come up with a solution for dealing with this program so people have it when it is needed, but it is not a permanent situation and there is a transition."
The Partnership for Children, a Kansas City-based child advocacy group, praised the attempt to provide a greater transitional child-care benefit for working parents but expressed concerns about the tradeoff that would slice benefits for many others.
"Their heart is in the right place, but it needs more discussion and more vetting before the early learning community can get on board," said Jeremy LaFaver, director of public policy for the children's partnership.
At issue is a program that currently provides child-care benefits to about 45,000 children whose families earn up to 139 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $25,757 annually for a single parent with two children. Those earning up to 127 percent of the poverty level - or $23,533 annually for a family of three - receive a full child care benefit that averages $291 a month. Those earning between 127 percent and 139 percent of the poverty level receive a child-care subsidy equal to three-fourths of the regular benefit.
The plan adopted by the Senate committee would extend that transitional child-care benefit up to 150 percent of the poverty level - or $27,795 for a family of three - for parents whose wages are increasing.
But it also would start to phase out benefits at a lower income level. Families earning between 101 percent and 125 percent of the poverty level would qualify for three-fourths of the regular benefits while those earning between 126 percent and 150 percent of the poverty level would receive half the full child-care benefit.
Senate appropriations committee staff said there are 4,520 families with about 6,630 children whose benefits would be reduced and an additional 400 families with 570 children who would become eligible for benefits offered under the expanded transition period.
The budget plan adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee next goes to the full chamber. If passed there, it would have to be reconciled with the House version before going to Gov. Jay Nixon.
The total dollar amounts in the House and Senate plans both are similar to what Nixon proposed in January. Both chambers have proposed to hold basic funding for public school districts flat at $3 billion next year. The Senate plan includes more money for school busing than the House version and a smaller cut in basic aid for higher education institutions than the governor and House proposed.
Among other things, the House and Senate plans also differ on how much to spend promoting the Missouri Lottery, which provides a portion of its revenues to education.