The Kansas Department for Children and Families plans to reduce July 1 the minimum number of hours worked each week by low-income parents to be eligible for state financial assistance with the cost of child care, officials said Thursday.

DCF Secretary Laura Howard said additional policy changes accompanying the drop in the weekly work mandate from 28 to 20 hours would help Kansans with modest incomes struggling to afford day care for their children.

"We know that child care costs can be an obstacle to employment for many of our low-income families," Howard said. "Our expectation is that families will actually be able to increase their earnings while having peace of mind knowing their children are being cared for in healthy environments."

She said day care in Topeka could consume one-fifth of the income of a family at the top of the program's eligibility threshold of 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

In addition, DCF said eligibility for child care assistance would be broadened to include participants in the GOALS employment and training program. GOALS serves parents who participate in the state’s food assistance program. DCF also intends to begin devoting Child Care Development Funds to pay the cost of day care for children in the state's foster care system.

Gov. Laura Kelly said the adjustments at DCF were part of an effort to strengthen the safety net for children and families.

"Having access to quality child care is essential for parents to maintain employment," the Democratic governor said. "By expanding access to the program, more Kansas families can sustain employment or participate in meaningful training programs."

DCF estimated the policy changes would benefit 3,000 children in Kansas and cost about $9 million in the upcoming fiscal year.