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NASHVILLE — Tennessee child care providers are seeing a 10% jump in payment rates for children whose families are enrolled and meet requirements in the state's assistance programs for low-income families.

Department of Human Services officials said it's a step to help parents and caretakers better balance their lives while raising a family and holding down a jobs.

The increase, which took place Friday, applies to all categories of care in the state's Child Care Certificate Program.

"Many child care providers have continuously and consistently served families throughout the pandemic, enabling parents to work and children to continue their critical early learning," Tennessee Department of Human Services Commissioner Clarence H. Carter said in a statement. "This rate increase will create incentives to grow the child care industry and remove some of the barriers that make it challenging for parents to enter the workforce and support their families."

(READ MORE: Chattanooga child care centers ramp up COVID-19 protocols as cases rise among children)

Tennessee pays a reimbursement rate directly to child care providers on behalf of families enrolled in programs that meet the state's income and work or education requirements. The rate increase is projected to save a number of participating families money by reducing the amount they have to pay to cover tuition expenses.

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Contributed photo by Tennessee Department of Human Services / Clarence H. Carter

At the same time, officials said, it provides additional financial support to child care providers who may be recovering from financial losses during the COVID-19 pandemic. That's expected to help providers keep their doors open and be available to serve families locally who need quality care for their kids.

The Department of Human Services last week began providing additional assistance to child care agencies that provide services for children with disabilities or special needs. A 15% rate "bonus" will be applied to each qualifying child who participates in the Child Care Certificate Program. On top of that, the agency is partnering with the Child Care Resource and Referral Network to establish a team of Inclusion Quality Coaches to promote inclusive early childhood environments.

(READ MORE: Biden plan gives boost to early childhood funding after 1 in 8 preschool workers lose job in pandemic)

Those investments are among a series of moves aimed at supporting and expanding child care in Tennessee. In recent years, the Department of Human Services has offered enhancement and COVID-19 relief grants, established the WAGE$ program to raise salaries and created a bonus for providers operating in communities that don't have an adequate supply of child care providers.

Earlier this year, Tennessee legislators turned their eyes to the state's welfare programs and along with Gov. Bill Lee's administration made major changes in the state's Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program for the working poor and needy families. The changes boosted monthly cash allotments to families while providing new educational and other support aimed at helping them attain self-sufficiency and eventually to move off welfare aid.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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