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Policy change allows U.S.-born low-income children in Utah to access federal childcare subsidies

Early Childhood Alliance
Early Childhood Alliance
Early Childhood Alliance

Before April 1, Utah parents of mixed immigration status could not apply for federal childcare assistance for their U.S.-born children. Now, that’s changed.

After several years of petitioning lawmakers and agency personnel, child advocacy groups have successfully worked to change a Utah Department of Workforce Services policy prohibiting some immigrants and refugees from accessing federal childcare subsidies for their U.S.-born children.

Holy Cross Ministries Chief Executive Officer Emmie Gardner said a coalition of advocates, including the Early Childhood Alliance, Voices for Utah Children, Holy Cross Ministries, and state legislators, are responsible for the policy change at the DWS.

“Many of the families that we serve that may be of mixed status are undocumented families that have US-born children who are now eligible to qualify because what we've been able to do is work with DWS to interpret the regulation in the way that it was intended, that this is a benefit for the child. And so, to qualify, the parents have to be legal guardians. Obviously, their child has to be a U.S. citizen, refugee status, or permanent resident to be able to show that they're working at least a minimum of 15 hours.”

The benefit amount depends on the number of children in a family and the family’s income. The childcare facility that receives the subsidy must be licensed or meet state qualifications for approved centers. Parents can go to CAC.gov to learn which childcare facilities are approved

“You know it does say that you may be able to select a family or a friend or a neighbor but they have to complete all the requirements with the Department of Health childcare licensing so it's again a licensed childcare center.”

Gardner said they’re working with DWS to change the agency’s website so that it does not ask for a person’s social security number or immigration status to fill out the applications. Gardner hopes this will encourage more eligible families to apply for childcare assistance. She wants to reassure families that childcare subsidy funds have nothing to do with a parent’s immigration status and everything to do with the child’s status.

“They actually sent us a draft of, kind of, a fact sheet. We're going to put that fact sheet in Spanish. Folks like us at Holy Cross with our preschool programs, with our parents, and our teachers, everyone is busy trying to kind of get the word out, reassuring families they're not going to need to provide a social security number. They're not going to have to provide their immigration status. So, it's a lot of word of mouth, it's a lot of fact sheet handouts.”

Last year Utah received $139 million in federal money and an additional $40 million in one-time CARES Act funds for childcare subsidies. Before the DWS policy change on April 1, advocates and lawmakers worried the federal funds would be at risk if the DWS policy didn’t change.

Click here to learn more about eligibility or apply for subsidies with the Department of Workforce Services.

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.