Compromise in licensing fee hike could keep child care affordable

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PHOENIX — Budget woes in Arizona had child care facilities facing huge increases in fees — increases so big some feared they'd be forced out of business.

The state is now offering a compromise that child care advocates say is a win-win situation. The new fees still call for a huge increase; but it will mean that child care is expensive but affordable for thousands of parents.

The state will help fund the program with a little more than a million dollars in taxpayer money, which some say is fair and necessary.

“In these really tough times it’s nice to see a proposal that not only prevents a crisis but actually moves us forward with some positive changes, and this one does that,” said Dana Naimark of the Children’s Action Alliance.

Naimark is referring to revisions in licensing fees under which child care centers will pay from between $500 - $3,900 for a three-year license. The cost will depend on the size of the center. The fee will be available only to those centers that will participate in a new program called Empower Pack, which emphasizes nutrition and physical activity.

“The program that we’re introducing today is essentially a six-month pilot program that we hope to continue on for a three-year period,” said Will Humble, Interim Director of the Department of Health Services.

The more than $1 million cost of the program will be picked up by using a combination of state and federal funds. Advocates equate using taxpayer dollars to subsidize for-profit child care centers to funding public education.

“Child care is equal to that [of] getting kids ready for school and I think we should support that,” said Bruce Liggett of the Arizona Child Care Association.

“What’s happening is education and is preparing them for better or for worse for what will happen when they start kindergarten,” Naimark added.

Naimark says the issue deserves a full discussion at the state legislature, something she says has not yet occurred.

The new fees go into effect January 1.