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Utah Lawmakers Push Gov. Cox to Change State Rule That Denies Aid to U.S.-born Kids

Utah policy does not allow U.S.-born children whose parents are of mixed status to apply for federal childcare subsidies — which is potentially risking millions in federal dollars allocated to the state for childcare subsidies for low-income children.   


Eighteen thousand Utah children qualify for federal financial childcare assistance. According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, the state distributes nearly $100 million in federal childcare subsidies to eligible families each year. 


The average cost of childcare in Utah is more than $12.50 an hour, yet the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. 


To be eligible for federal childcare subsidies, a family can earn 85% of the state's median annual income of about $72,000 for a household or almost $31,000 for a single parent. 


State Sen. Derek Kitchen, a Salt Lake Democrat representing Senate District 2, is on the Economic Development and Workforce Services interim committee to allow all eligible U.S.-born children access to the federal subsidies. He wants Gov. Spencer Cox and the state legislature to resolve the issue so legally eligible children can access the federal childcare subsidies. 


He said the labor shortage in Utah would also be helped by codifying the funding laws.


“What’s important is that we get a consensus-driven decision here that we can get this addressed at the state level so that we're not putting federal funds at risk and that children who are eligible, citizen children in the state of Utah, are not being excluded because of a language in state code,” Kitchen said.


Kitchen hopes to have a bill ready to sponsor by the 2022 general session in January, although Cox could immediately resolve the issue. 


“The administration does indeed currently have the ability to modify the language and make sure that they are in line with federal guidance,” he said. “So, this could be addressed today." 


Kitchen said each of the 104 members of the Utah Legislature has differing opinions and constituencies. He said the interim committee would meet again to hammer out language for a bill.


"It was obvious that committee members of both sides of the aisle were interested in exploring this concept a little bit further and making sure that we aren't putting our federal dollars at risk, and better aligning Utah practice with federal guidance,” he said. “Utah does follow federal policy in that children are determined to be eligible for this program based on the children's citizenship status. The question here is, if Utah may be violating federal rule by excluding children where their parents may not qualify due to earning income that is, quote-unquote, obtained, not legally." 


Republican House Rep. Steve Handy co-chairs the interim committee. He said children born in the U.S. are eligible for federal subsidies. 


“These are children who were born in the United States,” he said. “They are citizens, and they ought to be able to have the services that are available to them. These are federal dollars.” 


He said the question is whether to change the legislative process or to adjust Department of Workforce Services rules. He believes Cox’s administration should be pushed to change the rule this summer so children can access the funds for the upcoming 2021-22 school year.


The Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee will meet again in September. Rep. Handy hopes there will be a status report on the mixed-status issue and a resolution to follow. 


Cox’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment from KPCW News.


KPCW news reports on issues affecting young children and their parents are brought to you by the Park City Community Foundation’s Early Childhood Fund. For more information, visit earlychildhoodalliance.net.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.
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