Early Years

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Increases in federal funding have allowed states to meet some of the child-care needs created by the overhaul of the welfare system. But most states have barely made a dent in reducing the numbers of low-income families who are waiting for child-care assistance, according to a report from the Children's Defense Fund.

In "Locked Doors: States Struggling to Meet the Child Care Needs of Low-Income Working Families," the Washington-based advocacy group says that most states aren't helping many of those low-income families who would qualify for subsidies under federal law.

And when families are eligible, they often cannot get help, the report says. In California, for example, more than 200,000 families were on the child-care waiting list.

The report--a survey of child-care administrators in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia--also reveals that most officials felt that they would never be able to serve all the families who meet the eligibility requirements. Moreover, when families do receive subsidies, they are often required to contribute large copayments.

"The inadequacy of efforts to support low-income families is particularly disturbing," the authors write, "given that the 1996 welfare law provided states with new child-care funds, a number of states are facing budget surpluses and have strong economies, welfare caseloads are down, and the welfare work requirements have not yet risen significantly."

The nation's booming economy might be great for business, but poor children are not reaping the benefits, concludes the latest report from the National Center for Children in Poverty.

"Decades of experience teach us that we cannot rely on economic growth alone to overcome young-child poverty," Lawrence Aber, the director of the center, said in a statement.

In 1996, the center, based at Columbia University in New York City, released "One in Four: America's Youngest Poor," which focused on the 6.4 million children--about 26 percent--younger than 6 who were living in poverty in 1993.

Since then, the young-child poverty rate has fallen slightly, to 23 percent, according to 1996 U.S. Census Bureau calculations.

The new report, "Young Children in Poverty: A Statistical Update," says that there has been a 16 percent increase in the number of children in poverty who have at least one working parent, that the largest percentage of poor children are white, and that more than half of all poor young children live in suburban or rural areas.

--LINDA JACOBSON [email protected]

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