Bill to overhaul Colorado’s child care subsidy program clears first legislative hurdle

Four young children are playing on the ground with toys in a classroom.
A bill to overhaul Colorado's child care subsidy program would increase the subsidy amount for some parents and make the application process easier. (Ann Schimke / Chalkbeat)

The price tag of a bill to overhaul a Colorado program that helps low-income families pay for child care shocked some lawmakers Tuesday, but that didn’t stop a legislative committee from giving it initial approval.

House Bill 24-1223 would simplify the application process for the $156 million subsidy program, called the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program or CCCAP. It would also boost subsidy amounts for some families, make the program more attractive to child care providers, and cover child care tuition for the children of some full-time child care employees regardless of family income. Some of the proposed changes wouldn’t take effect until 2026.

The House Health and Human Services Committee approved the bill in an 8-4 vote Tuesday, with the most vociferous opposition coming from Rep. Richard Holtorf, a Republican representing several northeastern Colorado counties. He expressed concerns about the bill’s cost — about $81 million in the first year — among other things.

“When I first saw this bill and the fiscal note, I was shocked,” he said.

Rep. Lorena Garcia, a Democratic co-sponsor of the bill, noted that some of the bill’s provisions are part of new federal regulations and will come with federal money to pay for them.

“This is not the first time that the state has to preemptively pass policy in order to be able to draw down federal dollars,” she said. “In this case … we are extending the timeline out for two years. If something happens where these dollars then do not become available, we have time to correct.”

The bill’s next stop is the House Appropriations Committee.

Key provisions of the amended bill include:

  • Limiting parent co-pays to no more than 7% of family income, down from the current cap of 14%. An amendment approved Tuesday would delay the effective date of this provision to July 1, 2026.
  • Creating a uniform statewide application that doesn’t ask for extraneous information, such as custody agreements or child immunization records.
  • Allowing families to get or continue receiving child care aid for 90 days while their application or renewal paperwork is being reviewed, a provision that will help parents start working immediately and keep children in care. An amendment approved Tuesday would delay the effective date of this provision to July 1, 2026.
  • Paying child care providers who accept subsidies based on the number of subsidized children enrolled, not on the number of days those children attend. Currently, providers can lose money for days the child is absent beyond the number allowed by their county.
  • Making child care employees eligible for full subsidies regardless of their family income. An amendment approved Tuesday would limit this benefit to full-time child care employees who work at a facility that accepts CCCAP subsidies.

More than 20 people testified about the bill at Tuesday’s hearing, including single mothers who have used the subsidy program, providers who accept the subsidies, and advocates from groups such as Healthier Colorado, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, and the Women’s Foundation of Colorado.

Most expressed support for the bill, but a few, representing counties, voiced concerns.

Katie First, legislative director at Colorado Counties, Inc., a group that represents county commissioners, said allowing child care employees to access subsidies regardless of family income could take aid away from other families who need it.

“While we appreciate the need to support and recruit child care providers, we fear that prioritizing these providers will decrease the number of low-income families that we would be able to serve in our community,” she said.

Child care is a low-wage, high-turnover industry with many providers facing staff shortages in recent years.

Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat, covering early childhood issues. Contact Ann at aschimke@chalkbeat.org.

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