Panel Paper: Caught in Red Tape? the Timing of Eligibility Recertification and Disruptions in Child Care Subsidy Participation

Friday, November 7, 2014 : 8:30 AM
Jemez (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Elizabeth Davis1, Caroline Krafft1 and Nicole Forry2, (1)University of Minnesota, (2)Child Trends
Subsidies to help parents pay for child care are an important component of U.S. public spending on work supports for low-income families. However, many families receive these subsidies only for short periods of time and some leave the program despite remaining income-eligible. Recent proposed rule changes for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) are intended to increase the continuity of subsidy participation for eligible children. Under the proposed rule, most parents would be required to recertify eligibility for child care subsidies only once per year. Currently, eligibility periods based on state policies range from three to 12 months. While studies in two states have found a connection between the requirement to recertify eligibility and the likelihood of a disruption in subsidy participation in a particular month, there has been little in-depth research on the implementation of eligibility policies and their relationship with subsidy spell duration. As states shift towards longer eligibility periods, the effectiveness of the policy change in reducing churning in the subsidy program will vary across states depending on how caseworkers implement recertification requirements at the local level. In this paper we analyze five years of subsidy administrative data from a state that implemented a 12-month eligibility policy midway through the study period. Regardless of the stated policy, the actual timing of families’ eligibility recertification is set by caseworkers, and wide variation occurs. We exploit variation across counties and over time in local policies to examine the distribution of family eligibility periods and the relationship between recertification and churning in the subsidy program. We model the likelihood of subsidy exit using Cox proportional hazard models to examine the relationship between the timing of eligibility recertification and exits from the subsidy program, controlling for child, family and provider characteristics.

This study is unique in that we also analyze the role of caseworker discretion in setting an end date for the voucher authorizing the subsidized child care services. Even though a family may be assigned an eligibility recertification date which is 6 or 12 months in the future, in this state each subsidy voucher, which authorizes care for a specific child with a specific provider, has a specific end date. The voucher end date frequently occurs prior to the family’s recertification date, and the family may encounter a time or paperwork burden to keep the subsidy when the voucher expires. This paper is the first to analyze the relationships among voucher authorization spells, family eligibility spells and receipt of subsidized child care services. Preliminary findings show wide variation across local jurisdictions, only some of which is related to family and child characteristics. Spells of subsidy participation tend to be short (less than six months), and many families return quickly for another spell of subsidy use. We test the (relative) roles of voucher expiration and eligibility redetermination for exit from the subsidy program using a Cox proportional hazard model. The findings have important implications for state and federal policy regarding redetermination in public assistance programs.