July 19, 2022
Child care is the number one cost for a family of four with two young children—around $1,100 a month, according to the United Way’s ALICE survival budget, which covers a family’s basic needs. That’s more than rent/housing, healthcare, food, and transportation.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services child care subsidy, also known as the MDHHS Child Development and Care program, provides financial assistance to cover all or a portion of child care costs for qualifying families. Yet, many are not taking advantage of this benefit, which can help soften the burden of child care costs.
Paying attention to what’s available for free or subsidized child care is crucial for families as inflation puts further constraints on the budget for food, household items, fuel and other goods and services. Paying for child care can be a stretch for many families, with the average cost of child care for a 4-year-old at $8,800.
One of the reasons parents don’t pursue applying for the child care subsidy, according to Kristal Johnson, United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s director of early childhood initiatives, is that they think they are not eligible. “This is why Connect4Care Kids is so important because we can at least let parents know what their options are,” says Kristal. “They just may not realize that they’re eligible for some assistance.”
United Way’s Connect4Care Kids is a free online tool that serves as a one-stop-shop for Wayne County parents and caregivers of a child age 5 or younger to find affordable child care.
Another reason parents don’t apply is difficulty around navigating the system: knowing where to start, how to identify quality child care providers, and what other early childhood programs or supports families might take advantage of.
That is where Connect4Care Kids can really help. “We’re always trying to get families into Early Head Start, Head Start or GSRP (the Great Start Readiness Program),” says Jeff Miles, senior director, economic mobility and social navigation at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Those programs are completely free to qualifying families. “But if that doesn’t work, we can direct parents to the subsidy to figure out other options.”
A good first stop for determining eligibility for child care subsidies is Connect4Care Kids. Parents and caregivers have two ways to reach out for assistance in navigating the system and determining eligibility: visit the Connect4Care Kids website or text KIDS to 47223. If Connect4Care Kids determines a child is eligible for the MDHHS child care subsidy, families eventually need to apply on the MiBridges website (more information below in Step Three). There is a direct link to that site from Connect4Care Kids.
A Connect4Care Kids specialist is also available via phone or email to answer questions.
Families may qualify for the MDHHS subsidy based on income (see the Income Eligibility Scale, which shows qualifying rates based on a family’s gross monthly income), and if they are employed, attending college or a job training program or working on completing a high school diploma. Families participating in approved counseling or training programs, that have a child in foster or protective care, or are experiencing homelessness may qualify as well.
For most families, the state pays a portion of the full child care cost, reducing the amount the family pays the provider.
If families are income-eligible, but don’t qualify for programs, such as Early Head Start, Head Start or GRSP, and/or they need child care outside of the school year, they should apply for the MDHHS subsidy.
For a complete list of approved need reasons, please review the Bridges Eligibility Manual (BEM 703) policy.
Visit MiBridges to apply for subsidies under Child Development and Care (CDC). Note: the child does not need to be enrolled with a child care provider before parents apply for the MDHHS subsidy.
After the application is complete, a caseworker will contact the parent/caregiver by mail or phone to review the application. The interview may be completed by phone or in person.
Parents should be prepared to share the necessary documents. This could include documents to:
Families can start searching for quality child care providers by using the Connect4Care Kids location map to find a nearby center that accepts the MDHHS subsidy and contact them about openings.
Whether child care is provided at a center or in a home, as long as the provider accepts the state subsidy, families can use them for child care and have the cost reduced. “The subsidy allows for what we call FFNs, friends, family and neighbors, or license-exempt providers, to be able to accept government assistance and to keep costs down,” says Jeff. “These are usually smaller providers, with less than six children in a home. So it really is a way to expand options for families with all different provider types.”
The MDHHS child care subsidy is still tied in with the state’s quality rating system, covering more of the cost for higher rated providers. A provider’s Star Rating is included on the Connect4Care Kids locations map.
There is a shortage of early childhood programs in Michigan, primarily due to staffing issues and the need to adhere to quality standards around low teacher-student ratios. In fact, 44 percent of state residents live in areas known as child care deserts, where capacity is too low to meet demand. Applying early is crucial for families to secure a spot in a program that is affordable and at a convenient location. Connect4Care Kids will not only get parents and caregivers started on the journey to understand their options, but follow them throughout the process.