Is there financial assistance available to help pay for quality child care in South Carolina?
The need for affordable child care is one of the greatest challenges facing our nation. For South Carolinians, the good news is you may be eligible for financial assistance to help pay for child care over a certain time. Thanks to changes in federal funding, this temporary financial support is available to more families, including middle-income families, now than it ever has been before. The best part is parents can choose from an extensive list of ABC Quality monitored providers, ensuring their children experience a child care facility and environment best suited for them.
What sort of financial assistance does South Carolina offer for qualifying families in need of child care?
South Carolina provides financial assistance to help pay for quality child care, so parents can work or attend job training for a designated time—usually a year. The goal of the program is to increase the availability, affordability, accessibility, and quality of child care for families across the state of South Carolina and then assist those families in achieving and maintaining economic self-sufficiency and family stability. Partnering child care providers are paid for services by the state of South Carolina based on their quality level, assigned by ABC Quality monitoring staff. Providers who receive higher quality levels receive higher reimbursement rates for their child care services.
This financial assistance program is accessible to a number of families with varying living and employment situations, meeting different criteria. It also helps to provide child care for families who have children with special needs and children in foster care, among many others. The goal of this program is to promote economic independence and the concept that continued employment results in more secure families. All participants must be working, attending school or training, or have a verified disability in order to qualify for financial assistance with child care services.
How can a family receive financial assistance for quality child care in South Carolina?
In general, a parent's income must be below 55 percent of state median income based on family size for eligibility. For a family of 4, this would be $40,370 annually. While there is some variance in criteria, most families will need to show employment, education or training, or other program enrollment; need to be at or below the 55 percent state median income level and pay some percentage of a copayment based on their income. For those who do qualify, the state of South Carolina will make payments to child care providers to care for children, so their parents can work.
Over 1,500 providers are enrolled in this program statewide, and while over 90 percent of children receiving financial assistance are enrolled in child care centers, some are cared for in group or family child care homes or with family, friend, and neighbor care. Parents are able to choose the provider who will care for their child, be it a child care center, church, synagogue, school, family or group child care home, employer, friend, or neighbor.
The Division of Early Care and Education pays all child care providers within 4 to 6 days of receiving online payment documents, and many parents share in the cost of child care via copayments based on family size and income. These generally range from $6 to $20 per week, per child. All the money paid to ABC Quality child care providers goes back into South Carolina’s economy to benefit all South Carolinians.
Who is eligible for financial assistance for child care?
Families applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) may receive assistance through Applicant Child Care (ACC). Child care may be available to families for up to four weeks to assist a TANF applicant 1) while they conduct an initial job search; 2) in order for the client to obtain the job, or 3) maintain a job during the application period. For those applying for TANF, the ACC application can be completed with the client by the Family Success Coach or designated county staff.
- Current TANF participants may receive child care assistance. The purpose of child care through TANF is to provide child care assistance for a family to participate in approved employment, education, training or to comply with their TANF family plan. Those seeking to apply as TANF participants should be 1) receiving a TANF stipend; 2) must be employed at least part-time, in school, or training or have a verified disability at the time; 3) meet income guidelines, and 4) must pay a fee based on their income. TANF clients should apply through their Family Success Coach. Those who meet qualifications will be eligible to receive 12 months of services and may re-apply for an additional 12 months as funding permits.
- Parents or caretaker relatives receiving a TANF benefit from a TANF 'Child Only’ case may be eligible to apply for child care assistance. These cases contain caretaker relatives, SSI parents, or disqualified parents. Those seeking TANF/Child Only meet eligibility if 1) the child is a TANF or SSI recipient; 2) they are employed at least part-time, in school, or training or have a verified disability at the time; 3) they meet income guidelines, and 4) they pay a fee based on their income.
- Transitional child care benefits may be offered for those who have received a TANF benefit and whose benefit ends due to employment, increase in earned income, expiration of earned income disregards, waiver of earned income disregards, voluntary closure requests when excluded income exceeds the income limit, or the 24-month TANF time limit. Parents are eligible when 1) they meet the income limit guidelines and they are employed at least part-time (travel time is also considered work), and 2) they are able to pay a portion of their child care costs through a client fee paid to the provider. As a note, transitional child care may be authorized for up to two years.
- Families who have active or open Family Preservation Cases may also apply for child care assistance. Eligibility is different for ‘CPS-In’ and ‘CPS-Out’ cases.
- For CPS-In cases, where the child remains in their own home, families 1) must have an open treatment family preservation case managed by an HS CM; 2) will receive 12 months of eligibility of child care per year; and 3) must apply as the parent/caretaker, and all information on the application relates to the family. The applicant does not have to be working, in school or training, because this service is provided in conjunction with protective services. However, income must be verified in order to assess a client fee.
- For CPS-Out cases, where the child is living in the home of a relative or designated caretaker, families 1) must have an open treatment CPS case managed by an HS CM; 2) can receive up to 52 weeks of child care per year, and 3) must apply as the caretaker/relative, and all information on the application relates to the family. As with CPS-In cases, the applicant does not have to be working, in school, or training, but income must be verified in order to assess a client fee.
- Foster care child care may also be available if there is an open/active foster care case. For foster families to be eligible, 1) the foster child’s monthly gross income should not exceed 55 percent of the state median income based on a family size of one, and 2) the foster parent must need the service in order to work, attend school or training, or they have a verified disability (unless an exception has been granted). Those interested in applying should know that the child care eligibility worker will verify the foster family’s employment and actual work hours but does not count income—only the foster child’s income is used in determining eligibility for a foster care child care.
- Child care assistance can be provided to a parent of a child with a documented disability or special need and is available from birth to age 19. Intake and application are handled through one of the following entities: County Department of Disabilities and Special Needs offices, BabyNet offered through the Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Rehabilitative Services offered through DHEC, South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, Easter Seals, Bright Start, South Carolina Autism Society, or other contracted Early Intervention providers throughout South Carolina. Applicant’s may be eligible if 1) the child has a special need identified by one of the entities mentioned or has a current Individualized Education Plan (IEP), IFSP, or 504 Plan through their school which specifies they are receiving speech, occupational or physical therapy; 2) they are working, in school or training, or have a verified disability; 3) children receiving child care are under the age of 19; 4) they require a minimum of 15 hours of child care per week; 5) they are at or below 55 percent of the state median income, and 6) they are willing to pay a fee based on their income.
- Child care assistance may be available for families experiencing homelessness who meet South Carolina’s McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness. The McKinney-Vento Definition of homelessness considers families homeless when they lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. To qualify for funding for the homeless voucher, a family must 1) provide verification of homelessness via a letter on Coalition (if not school-aged) or Department of Education letterhead (if the child in care is a school-aged child) indicating the family meets the state’s McKinney-Vento definition; 2) be at or below 55 percent of the state’s median income at the time of application; 3) be working, in school or training, actively searching for employment, or in mental health or drug/alcohol treatment program. There is no client fee for families applying under this category, and if approved, families will receive 52 weeks of child care per year. Families may apply through the shelter, homeless coalition, school district, or by calling the SC Voucher Program.
- Criminal Domestic Violence Child Care may also be available to individuals living in shelters to escape a domestic violence or sexual assault situation or to those receiving services from a state-funded domestic violence/sexual assault program. In order to qualify applicants must 1) be currently living in a shelter or participating in a shelter approved activity, such as counseling; 2) be working, in school or training (counseling at the shelter may count as training), and requiring a minimum of 15 hours of child care per week; 3) be at or below 55 percent of the state’s median income; 4) pay a fee based on family size and gross monthly income. Application and intake are primarily done by domestic violence shelter staff.
- Head Start Wrap Around Child Care is also a possibility for families who meet basic SC Voucher Program criteria and provides child care either before or after the Head Start day to a parent whose child is enrolled in a Head Start program as funding is available. The local participating Head Start program or Early Head Start program generally identifies potentially eligible clients and applies and supporting documentation to the SC Voucher Program. To meet basic criteria an applicant must 1) be working, in training or school, for a minimum of 15 hours per week; 2) have a child of early Head Start age (0-2 years) and/or Head Start age (3-5 years) in need of child care; 3) be 18 years old or an emancipated minor; 4) be at or below 55 percent of state median income; and 5) pay a fee based on family size and gross monthly income.
- South Carolina also works with local Early Head Start Child Care Partnerships to provide limited slots to the programs in order to provide child care funding to eligible families. Each eligible Early Head Start Child Care Partnership is given a dedicated number of child care slots to assist them in meeting their voucher requirement. To meet basic criteria an applicant must 1) be working, in training or school, for a minimum of 15 hours per week; 2) have a child of early Head Start age (0-2 years) in need of child care; 3) be at or below 55 percent of state median income, and 4) pay a fee based on family size and gross monthly income.
- Family Literacy Child Care is also available through this program, providing child care assistance to current high school students or individuals enrolled in an adult education program working on a high school diploma or GED. Participation in college or homebound students do not count for this funding. To meet basic criteria, applicants must 1) be actively seeking a high school diploma or GED; 2) provide a copy of their current school schedule; 3) Provide the most recent 30 days of pay stubs (if working), and 4) be at or below the 55 percent state median income level. Referrals for family literacy child care are primarily done through school counselors or other staff through the Department of Education. If approved, applicants will receive 52 weeks of child care.
- The Dual Language Learner (DLL) Child Care Program helps provide child care enabling low-income children who are dual language learners to have access to high-quality child care services. Applicants typically apply through a DLL contact with Child Care Resource and Referral. To qualify, individuals must 1) be working, in school (ESL classes count), in training, participating in a drug/alcohol or mental health treatment program or job searching a minimum of 15 hours a week; 2) have children needing care between the ages of 0 and 12; 3) require a minimum of 15 hours of child care per week, and 4) be at or below the 55 percent state median income level. If approved, there is no copay for this program and participants will receive 52 weeks of child care.
- SC First Steps has also partnered with this program in a new initiative that began over the summer making it possible for families who have 4K eligible children to receive child care financial assistance for the siblings of the 4K student. To learn more about this joint initiative, visit www.scfirststeps.org.
All families deserve the opportunity to provide their children with quality care and education. When financial assistance is needed, the state of South Carolina wants parents and caregivers to have the ability to choose from over 1,500 high-quality providers while they work towards economic independence and education goals. Keep in mind that all applications for financial assistance are processed in the order they are received, and applicants are asked to not submit multiple applications or submit the same application more than once. For more information on this financial assistance program, visit https://scchildcare.org/departments/sc-voucher.aspx or call the program's client line at 1-800-476-0199.
By ABC Quality Team on September 16, 2021