(WOMENSENEWS)–A congressional audit released earlier this week shows that over the past two years, nearly half of all U.S. states have reduced access to government-subsidized child care for low-income families, The Associated Press reports.

According to the U.S. General Accounting Office’s May 5 audit report, only nine states have increased access to child care.

Twenty-five states plus the District of Columbia report that they do not offer child care subsidies to all eligible families that apply and families in 14 states are now required to be poorer if they want help. Eight states and the District of Columbia no longer give subsidies to new families applying for child care.

The report, requested by Rep. Benjamin Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, comes as Congress debates how to change the welfare system. President Bush’s welfare proposal calls for states to require more welfare recipients to work outside the home and demands that each person work 40 hours. It does not request any additional funding for child care.

Democrats say that child care spending is crucial if welfare recipients are required to work more hours. Without such funding, they say, states will have to cut back various support services and more welfare recipients will have to choose between tending their children or working outside the home.

In a press release, Rep. Cardin said, “This report confirms our worst fears,” he said. “If this trend continues, our nation will take a major step backwards in promoting work and protecting children.”

— Jill Filipovic.