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Childcare Costs Can Create Cycle Of Poverty For Single Moms

Being a parent is stressful and expensive – especially for single moms.

According to a recent study by The Hamilton Project, the average single mother in Indiana spends 27 percent of her paycheck on childcare.

While childcare is the largest expense for most parents, the crippling cost creates a difficult dilemma for single moms. In order to work, they need someone to watch their kids – but, they only have one paycheck to cover the cost of care.

Experts say in order to break that vicious cycle, they need the government's help.

Childcare Is Single Largest Expense For Most Parents

Samantha Allen and her 2-year-old son Jonas spend a lot of time at home.

They read books or play in his tent, letting their imaginations take them places their budget can't.

"We don't get to do any fun stuff that we'd like to do," she said "We don't get to travel, we don't get to go to restaurants or order pizza or do any of those things that a lot of people get to do with their kids."

That's because, as a single mother, Samantha's paycheck doesn't go far.

She works two jobs so she can send her son to the Monroe County YMCA's Center for Children and Families.

And, each month, she pays as much for childcare as she does for rent.

"It's really challenging," Allen said. "You want the best place for your child, obviously. Somewhere where he's going to have a good time, where he's going to learn, where he's going to be stimulated and somewhere where he's safe. But, then you compare that to the prices that you're looking at and it can become incredibly challenging to choose a place that you can not only afford, but that's also going to be good for your child."

Women across the state are facing the same challenge as daycare becomes increasingly expensive. According to the Census Bureau, childcare costs for working mothers rose more than 70 percent from 1985 to 2011 nationwide.

"Childcare for some families can be the number one biggest thing that they spend their paycheck on," said Jen Smallwood, director of the Center for Children and Families. "In many states, particularly if they have more than one child, they're spending more on childcare or early childcare programs than they are on their rent or their mortgage."

There's a waiting list for almost all ages at the Center. Smallwood says running a high-quality program costs a lot of money and centers often have no other choice but to pass some of their expenses on to parents.

"The majority of the costs, probably 75 to 80 percent of the costs in early childhood programs are staffing," Smallwood said.

Not Enough Funding To Meet Childcare Assistance Demand

The high cost of those programs is forcing some families to get creative.

A Pew Research Center report released earlier this year suggests a recent rise in the number of stay-at-home moms could be related to the rise in childcare expenses.

"A lot of families will choose to find care with a grandparent or someone else who's watching a child," Smallwood said. "And, a lot of times, some people will call me looking for financial assistance because they don't want their child to be sitting at home watching TV all day."

The state does provide assistance through its Child Care Development Fund.

Vouchers subsidize the cost of care while parents are working or going to school.

But, families have to meet certain criteria to qualify. The state looks at household income and the size of each family.

Only those living at up to 127 percent of the federal poverty line can take advantage of the funding.

"The national research indicates that really up until about 200, maybe 250 percent of federal poverty, that childcare can still be an unreasonable percentage of a family's income," said Melanie Brizzi, Director of the Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning.

The demand for childcare assistance in Indiana far outweighs the funding available. Brizzi said her office spends about $190 million a year on childcare assistance.

Most of that is federal funding, which has remained stagnant for several years.

But, last year, her office did receive some additional money at the state level from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, which allowed them to help more families.

Still, there's a waitlist of about 10,000 eligible children in need of vouchers.

And, the longer they wait, the more grim the outcome for their families.

In some cases, high childcare costs prevent parents from breaking the cycle of poverty.

"To be productive at work, you have to be secure that your childcare is meeting the needs of your child," said Mindy Bennett, director of programs for Childcare Answers. "If you're concerned about your child, you're not going to be productive at work and it makes it difficult to hold a job if you don't have childcare."

That's why Samantha sacrifices so much to send Jonas to daycare.

She dreams of a better life for her son.

"I want him to be happy, and healthy and smart and do well," she said. "And, sadly, as a single mom, you see the statistics that that doesn't happen a lot for our kids. So, I think that's part of why we sacrificed so much into the right schools at three. Because, it doesn't look so good for him. And so, if I can get him in the right schools, if I can sacrifice to make things better for him, that's ideally what we want to do."

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