By Nushrat Rahman, BridgeDetroit 

Roughly one-third of children in Michigan under age 5 qualified for child care subsidies, but only 5% received those credits. Meanwhile, an estimated 44% of Michiganders live in “child care deserts” — places with a lack of licensed child care providers.

That’s according to an August analysis from the Michigan League for Public Policy and Kids Count in Michigan released this week looking at how many kids in Michigan, from birth to 5 years old, have access to educational and supportive safety nets, such as child care subsidies and food assistance programs, that are key to their economic security.

The report finds significant gaps in need versus access to programs that provide food help, offset costs for child care and cash assistance among eligible families.

“Children are not necessarily getting what they need to thrive,” said Kelsey Perdue, Kids Count in Michigan project director.

Across Michigan there were 683,798 children under age 5 as of 2019. Twenty-two percent were in four-person households making less than $25,750 at the time. Working parents are struggling to make ends meet and participation rates for assistance programs meant to help them stay afloat may not reflect true need, the fact sheet notes.

Data comes from federal and state sources and is from 2019 and 2020. Among the findings in the state and county level analysis:

  • In Wayne County, about half of Michigan kids under 5 were eligible for child care subsidies, but only 7% received the credits. The state last year raised the income eligibility requirements through 2023, so now more kids are able to tap into these benefits.
  • Quality child care is scarce in Michigan. About 44% of Michiganders live in child care deserts — or areas where the ratio of kids under 5 to licensed child care providers is greater than three kids per spot. The statewide ratio is 1.9 kids per spot and so, overall, Michigan has a low capacity of child care spots. Only Baraga County in the Upper Peninsula had a nearly one to one ratio.
  • Nearly 50% of young children in Michigan were eligible to get food assistance benefits. However, only a quarter were enrolled to get that support.
  • Two percent of kids received cash assistance, despite 11% of kids under age 5 qualifying for the help. In Wayne County, 19% were eligible for this help, but only 3% were enrolled in the state’s Family Independence Program.

These gaps affect a family’s economic security, health and well-being and the future academic success of young people, Purdue said.

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