From the Washington Post:
The analysis found that the changes have, in particular, decreased the availability of subsidized day care for low-income working families, although a few states have also tightened subsidies for families that are on welfare or have recently left it. […]
The availability of child care has been a contentious issue in the welfare debate. Democrats say that affordable day care is a prerequisite if mothers are to go to work, as the welfare system requires them to do. Republicans say that the government gives states ample money, because welfare caseloads have plummeted in recent years, leaving federal aid left over for other services, including day care.
In reality, the states are facing a budget crisis, and don’t have “ample money” for child care or anything else.
One thing that’s disturbing, reading the Post’s article, is the ongoing trend of considering child care subsidies something that goes to welfare parents, rather than all low-income parents (or, as I’d prefer, all parents period). 14 states now have stricter income requirements “especially for families not on welfare.” Maryland is no longer helping low-income families with child care at all, if the family is not on welfare. Indiana has decided to divert its child-care money to cash welfare payments (again, available only to families on welfare).
This reflects the nature of poverty-fighting programs since the 1996 welfare reform act. Increasingly, the goal is no longer to fight poverty, but to reduce the welfare rolls. But when success is defined as “fewer families on welfare,” perverse incentives are created. Instead of trying to reduce poverty overall, states are motivated to 1) target aid to get current welfare families off of welfare, and 2) make welfare eligibility more and more difficult, so that families off of welfare don’t re-enter, and fewer new families enter the welfare system.
Why are fewer states providing child care help for poor families not on welfare? Because the goal isn’t to reduce poverty; the goal is to reduce welfare.