45 CFR § 98.45 - Equal access.

§ 98.45 Equal access.

(a) The Lead Agency shall certify that the payment rates for the provision of child care services under this part are sufficient to ensure equal access, for eligible families in the area served by the Lead Agency, to child care services comparable to those provided to families not eligible to receive CCDF assistance or child care assistance under any other Federal, State, or tribal programs.

(b) The Lead Agency shall provide in the Plan a summary of the data and facts relied on to determine that its payment rates ensure equal access. At a minimum, the summary shall include facts showing:

(1) How a choice of the full range of providers is made available, and the extent to which child care providers participate in the CCDF subsidy system and any barriers to participation including barriers related to payment rates and practices, based on information obtained in accordance with paragraph (d)(2) of this section;

(2) How payment rates are adequate and have been established based on the most recent market rate survey or alternative methodology conducted in accordance with paragraph (c) of this section;

(3) How base payment rates enable providers to meet health, safety, quality, and staffing requirements in accordance with paragraphs (f)(1)(ii)(A) and (f)(2)(ii) of this section;

(4) How the Lead Agency took the cost of higher quality into account in accordance with paragraph (f)(2)(iii) of this section, including how payment rates for higher-quality care, as defined by the Lead Agency using a quality rating and improvement system or other system of quality indicators, relate to the estimated cost of care at each level of quality;

(5) How co-payments based on a sliding fee scale are affordable, as stipulated at paragraph (k) of this section; if applicable, a rationale for the Lead Agency's policy on whether child care providers may charge additional amounts to families above the required family co-payment, including a demonstration that the policy promotes affordability and access; analysis of the interaction between any such additional amounts with the required family co-payments, and of the ability of subsidy payment rates to provide access to care without additional fees; and data on the extent to which CCDF providers charge such additional amounts to families (based on information obtained in accordance with paragraph (d)(2) of this section);

(6) How the Lead Agency's payment practices support equal access to a range of providers by providing stability of funding and encouraging more child care providers to serve children receiving CCDF subsidies, in accordance with paragraph (l) of this section;

(7) How and on what factors the Lead Agency differentiates payment rates; and

(8) Any additional facts the Lead Agency considered in determining that its payment rates ensure equal access.

(c) The Lead Agency shall demonstrate in the Plan that it has developed and conducted, not earlier than two years before the date of the submission of the Plan, either:

(1) A statistically valid and reliable survey of the market rates for child care services; or

(2) An alternative methodology, such as a cost estimation model, that has been:

(i) Proposed by the Lead Agency; and

(ii) Approved in advance by ACF.

(d) The Lead Agency must:

(1) Ensure that the market rate survey or alternative methodology reflects variations by geographic location, category of provider, and age of child;

(2) Track through the market rate survey or alternative methodology, or through a separate source, information on the extent to which:

(i) Child care providers are participating in the CCDF subsidy program and any barriers to participation, including barriers related to payment rates and practices; and

(ii)CCDF child care providers charge amounts to families more than the required family co-payment (under paragraph (k) of this section) in instances where the provider's price exceeds the subsidy payment, including data on the size and frequency of any such amounts.

(e) Prior to conducting the market rate survey or alternative methodology, the Lead Agency must consult with:

(1) The State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care (designated or established pursuant to section 642B(b)(1)(A)(i) of the Head Start Act (42 U.S.C. 9837b(b)(1)(A)(i)) or similar coordinating body, local child care program administrators, local child care resource and referral agencies, and other appropriate entities; and

(2) Organizations representing child care caregivers, teachers, and directors.

(f) After conducting the market rate survey or alternative methodology, the Lead Agency must:

(1) Prepare a detailed report containing the results, and make the report widely available, including by posting it on the Internet, not later than 30 days after the completion of the report. The report must include:

(i) The results of the market rate survey or alternative methodology;

(ii) The estimated cost of care necessary (including any relevant variation by geographic location, category of provider, or age of child) to support:

(A) Child care providers' implementation of the health, safety, quality, and staffing requirements at §§ 98.41 through 98.44; and

(B) Higher-quality care, as defined by the Lead Agency using a quality rating and improvement system or other system of quality indicators, at each level of quality; and

(iii) The Lead Agency's response to stakeholder views and comments.

(2) Set payment rates for CCDF assistance:

(i) In accordance with the results of the most recent market rate survey or alternative methodology conducted pursuant to paragraph (c) of this section;

(ii) With base payment rates established at least at a level sufficient for child care providers to meet health, safety quality, and staffing requirements in accordance with paragraph (f)(1)(ii)(A) of this section;

(iii) Taking into consideration the cost of providing higher-quality child care services, including consideration of the information at each level of higher quality required by paragraph (f)(1)(ii)(B) of this section;

(iv) Taking into consideration the views and comments of the public obtained in accordance with paragraph (e) and through other processes determined by the Lead Agency; and

(v) Without, to the extent practicable, reducing the number of families receiving CCDF assistance.

(g) A Lead Agency may not establish different payment rates based on a family's eligibility status, such as TANF status.

(h)Payment rates under paragraph (a) of this section shall be consistent with the parental requirements in § 98.30

(i) Nothing in this section shall be construed to create a private right of action if the Lead Agency acts in accordance with the Act and this part.

(j) Nothing in this part shall be construed to prevent a Lead Agency from differentiating payment rates on the basis of such factors as:

(1) Geographic location of child care providers (such as location in an urban or rural area);

(2) Age or particular needs of children (such as the needs of children with disabilities, children served by child protective services, and children experiencing homelessness);

(3) Whether child care providers provide services during the weekend or other non-traditional hours; or

(4) The Lead Agency's determination that such differential payment rates may enable a parent to choose high-quality child care that best fits the parents' needs.

(k) Lead Agencies shall establish, and periodically revise, by rule, a sliding fee scale(s) for families that receive CCDF child care services that:

(1) Helps families afford child care and enables choice of a range of child care options;

(2) Is based on income and the size of the family and may be based on other factors as appropriate, but may not be based on the cost of care or amount of subsidy payment;

(3) Provides for affordable family co-payments that are not a barrier to families receiving assistance under this part; and

(4) At Lead Agency discretion, allows for co-payments to be waived for families whose incomes are at or below the poverty level for a family of the same size, that have children who receive or need to receive protective services, or that meet other criteria established by the Lead Agency.

(l) The Lead Agency shall demonstrate in the Plan that it has established payment practices applicable to all CCDF child care providers that:

(1) Ensure timeliness of payment by either:

(i) Paying prospectively prior to the delivery of services; or

(ii) Paying within no more than 21 calendar days of the receipt of a complete invoice for services.

(2) To the extent practicable, support the fixed costs of providing child care services by delinking provider payments from a child's occasional absences by:

(i) Paying based on a child's enrollment rather than attendance;

(ii) Providing full payment if a child attends at least 85 percent of the authorized time;

(iii) Providing full payment if a child is absent for five or fewer days in a month; or

(iv) An alternative approach for which the Lead Agency provides a justification in its Plan.

(3) Reflect generally-accepted payment practices of child care providers that serve children who do not receive CCDF subsidies, which must include (unless the Lead Agency provides evidence in the Plan that such practices are not generally-accepted in the State or service area):

(i) Paying on a part-time or full-time basis (rather than paying for hours of service or smaller increments of time); and

(ii) Paying for reasonable mandatory registration fees that the provider charges to private-paying parents:

(4) Ensure child care providers receive payment for any services in accordance with a written payment agreement or authorization for services that includes, at a minimum, information regarding provider payment policies, including rates, schedules, any fees charged to providers, and the dispute resolution process required by paragraph (l)(6);

(5) Ensure child care providers receive prompt notice of changes to a family's eligibility status that may impact payment, and that such notice is sent to providers no later than the day the Lead Agency becomes aware that such a change will occur;

(6) Include timely appeal and resolution processes for any payment inaccuracies and disputes.

[81 FR 67586, Sept. 30, 2016]