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United In Care Fills Gaps For ALICE Families Who Can’t Afford Child Care

Tuition assistance program proves critical to helping families access quality child care

Lauren Peters loves being a nurse. But when her second child Lenny was born in 2023, the high cost of child care left her wondering if she would be forced to become a stay-at-home mother.

Lauren didn’t want to walk away from her career. However, she and her husband Luke couldn’t afford to send their two children to child care and still make ends meet. They also didn’t qualify for government aid, earning too much to qualify for assistance.

Lauren was forced to cut her hours, working only when she could find someone to care for her children.

Lauren and Luke Peters with their sons Levy and Lenny, recipients of United In Care's Tuition Assistance

When the couple was denied financial aid, their child care provider, Stacey Cummins, owner of Little Wonders Childcare and Learning Center in Phillipsburg, had a suggestion: Apply for tuition assistance through United Way of Northern New Jersey’s United In Care child care program.

Little Wonders had been participating in the United In Care pilot project the past three years, and Cummins knew that families like the Peters had a shot at receiving tuition assistance.  

United In Care is designed to help families that fall into the ALICE demographic – Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, earning above the Federal Poverty Level but less than what it takes to afford the basics, including child care.

The Peters were approved by United In Care and Lauren was able to return to work.

“I love being a nurse,” she says. “I would not be able to do what I love if I didn’t have the access to the child care that I have now. Financially, United In Care really helped us tremendously. We could breathe again.”

Helping ALICE Families

Since United In Care launched in December 2020, the program has provided $1.2 million in tuition assistance for 233 children across 154 ALICE families in New Jersey.

The purpose of this assistance is threefold: First, to ensure ALICE children have access to consistent, quality child care. Second, to give working parents peace of mind while at work. And third, to bolster quality child care programs in child care deserts.  

The tuition assistance is currently limited to ALICE families with children enrolled with a child care provider affiliated with United In Care. The families have to be rejected from the state’s child care subsidy program for exceeding their income guidelines.

United In Care uses the ALICE Threshold, a baseline income for a family to afford the basics, to determine eligibility for tuition assistance. There is a sliding scale for the tuition, depending on the family’s income, with parents also chipping in a copay. Typically, families pay no more than 14% of their income, regardless of how many children they have in care.

“United Way serves as a safety net for ALICE families who, despite working hard, have nowhere else to turn,” says United Way of Northern New Jersey’s Michelle Roers, who oversees the program. “We know that quality child care sets the foundation for lifelong success and believe all children should have the opportunity to meet their potential.”

Bridging the Gap in an Emergency

United In Care tuition assistance can also help those facing a temporary crisis.

When single mother Epiphany Austin had her work hours temporarily reduced, she lost her state financial aid, which requires parents to work a minimum number of hours per week.

Fortunately for Epiphany, her two children were also enrolled with Little Wonders. She received tuition through United In Care, bridging the gap until she was able to boost her work hours again, and requalify for the subsidy. It ensured her children continued to have a seamless child care experience with a provider they know and trust.

“It made a very stressful time a lot less stressful,” Austin says, “And it helped me be able to go back to work as soon as possible.”

For more stories about the impact of the tuition assistance program, please check out this video on the Galarza family.

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