Mississippi sees spike in child care enrollment after abortion ban and child support policy change

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi has seen a consistent rise in the number of families accepting public assistance for child care since lawmakers banned abortion in almost all circumstances, with the sharpest increase coming after a child support policy change in May, the state human services director said Friday.

Speaking at a legislative hearing on funding requests for the upcoming budget cycle, Bob Anderson, who leads the Mississippi Department of Human Services, said the upward trend in voucher enrollment means the agency might “hit a wall with state and federal money,” forcing parents to undergo a waiting period for child care assistance.

The department counted 31,532 families receiving those vouchers as of this month, up from 24,500 last October.

“That is on track with what we were told to expect when Dobbs happened,” Anderson said, referring to Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Mississippi case in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the five-decade-old protection of abortion rights established by Roe v. Wade.

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After Dobbs, a Mississippi law went into effect banning abortion only if the woman’s life is in danger or if a pregnancy is caused by a rape that has been reported to law enforcement.

Voucher enrollment further accelerated in May after Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, approved a recommendation from a council of early childhood administrators to do away with a 19-year-old policy that had forced single parents and guardians to seek child support from the other parent to be eligible for assistance through the Child Care Payment Program, which offers help to low-income parents.

Advocates had sought to change that policy for years, saying it deterred many single mothers from applying for assistance because, among other reasons, they feared identifying their former partners would lead to abuse. They also said that when parents couldn’t find child care, it prevented them from getting back to work.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, also a Republican, disputed the idea that the abortion ban has had an impact on child care voucher enrollment. He said the increase cannot be tied to Dobbs because “we actually have less live births than we did before,” and the spike results instead from the May policy change.

“It’s clear to me it’s not the Dobbs decision. It’s the fact that we made this policy decision that’s been approved by the governor and that you’re seeing thousands of people become eligible because of that,” Hosemann said. “And the other side of that coin has to be that you will see less fathers responsible because they’re not being disclosed by an individual.”

Anderson said more children are being born in Mississippi than there would have been had abortion still been legal, leading to increased demand for services.

“Whether that’s a direct corollary from Dobbs, I don’t know. We can debate that,” Anderson said.

In a statement, Reeves’ office said the May decision was made because the governor “is always looking for more ways to make state government more effective and efficient.”

“He listened to the experts and made the decision based on their recommendation that a change in this policy would allow more mothers to enter the workforce without being penalized,” said Cory Custer, the governor’s deputy chief of staff. “If it is determined that the previous policy is a better path to prosperity, we will be happy to return.”

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Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him at @mikergoldberg.

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