Testimony of Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen, Director, Early Childhood, before the Committee of the Whole

May 3, 2024
Testimony
Person Testifying: Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen
Title: Director of Early Childhood, Under 3 DC
Testimony Heard By: Committee of the Whole
Type of Hearing: Budget Hearing

Good morning, Chairman Mendelson, members of the Committee of the Whole, and staff. My name is Ruqiyyah Anbar-Shaheen, and I am the Director of Early Childhood at DC Action and the Under 3 DC coalition. I am also a member of the Early Childhood Educator Equitable Compensation Task Force. I echo my colleagues’ thanks, Chairman Mendelson, for your commitment to introduce a budget with the Pay Equity Fund restored. I am also grateful to the majority of other councilmembers who have been critical of the proposed budget’s elimination of the program.

In addition to fully funding the Pay Equity Fund, we ask that the Council restore funds to the child care subsidy program and to PKEEP in the FY25 budget. Both programs are pillars of the District’s early childhood system and their success is necessary to ensure that families with low incomes are able to afford child care, that diverse preschool options are available for families, and that early childhood education and care providers have the resources they need to remain viable, sustainable child development and family economic supports. My testimony today focuses on the child care subsidy program.

The child care subsidy program, which supports the well-being and development of young children, while promoting economic stability for their parents, is facing a $10 million cut. This critical program is a lifeline for thousands of DC families for whom licensed child care is otherwise out of reach due to high costs. As a new federal rule went into effect on April 30, states are encouraged or required to enhance their programs in a number of ways that could increase costs. These include reducing or eliminating caregiver work and education requirements, paying providers based on participating program enrollment rather than attendance, waiving co-pays for families with income up to 150% of the federal poverty level, and expanded categorical eligibility.

Further, OSSE’s 2023 report on the cost of care highlighted that child care subsidy reimbursement rates fall short of the true cost of care. Although subsidy reimbursement rates increased since the publication of the report, they remain lower than the cost of care. This forces providers to operate on a deficit, or make choices in the interest of cost savings rather than quality. As District early learning programs lay the educational foundation for children facing the greatest economic injustice, it is imperative that they have the resources to allow them to prioritize creating quality, nurturing environments.

Finally, we know that the District does not currently serve all families who need help affording child care, and that unaffordable child care has devastating impacts on children, families, and the District economy. The federal Department of Health and Human Services finds child care is unaffordable when it exceeds 7% of a family’s household income. In the District, where the average cost of infant care is over $26,000 annually, the subsidy program serves just a fraction of the population that could benefit. 

Given the current state of child care affordability in DC, the District budget should be increasing, not decreasing, funding for the child care subsidy program to ensure that more families are able to participate and to increase reimbursement rates to make participating providers whole. 

We urge you to prioritize fully funding the child care subsidy program at $89 million in local funds ($64.7 million at OSSE and $24.3 million from TANF via DHS). With new federal guidance and an improved understanding of the cost of care, the District has the opportunity to improve the way it serves families for whom child care is unaffordable. Any reductions in funds would set back the subsidy program, the child development facilities that participate, and the families they serve, in direct opposition to the goals of the Birth-to-Three for All DC law. We cannot build a prosperous District on the backs of families and child care providers. 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.