Income Test for Child Care Subsidies a Positive Step, but Barriers to Access Remain

The Government of Ontario has announced that it is adopting a new way of determining eligibility for a child care fee subsidy. The change from a means-test to an income test to determine eligibility for a child care space could be a mixed bag for many Ontario families, however.

“On the face of it, this is a good move for Ontario’s child care system: the income test is less intrusive and stigmatizing for families,” said Elizabeth Ablett, Executive Director of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care (OCBCC). “Making child care affordable and accessible for families is a positive step. However, it is essential that this government provide core funding for early learning and child care (ELCC) programs. Otherwise, we are simply moving limited resources around, leading to longer waiting lists and, as municipalities try to balance budgets, cuts to the number of subsidies.”

The province directed municipalities to implement the new income test as of January 1, 2007. There have already been reports of families who once qualified for child care subsidies under the old means test, now being deemed ineligible for assistance. “I had to say good bye to one of our children and families on January 5th because they no longer qualified for their child care subsidy and they could not afford the full fee,” said Diane O’Neill, Executive Director of Aladin Child Care in the city of Ottawa.

“It’s a bit of a shell game,” said Shellie Bird President of the OCBCC. “Many families who once qualified under the means test will no longer, while previously ineligible families may now receive a subsidy. But the real story here today is that although the province moved to the income test as a way to increase access for families, it has not provided funding to make more subsidized spaces available. Access to high quality ELCC will be hampered until the province funds the system directly, just as it does with education and health.”