Ellen Reese, “But Who Will Watch the Children? State and Local Campaigns to Improve Child Care Policies”
“But Who Will Watch the Children? State and Local Campaigns to Improve Child Care Policies”
Intimate Labors Conference, UCSB, 2007 [PDF]
Note to readers: This paper is a draft of Chapter 5 from a book manuscript, They Say
Cutback, We Say Fight Back! Welfare Reform Activism in an Era of Retrenchment. This
book focuses on struggles over welfare policies after passage of the 1996 federal welfare
reform act in two states–California and Wisconsin– and the two largest cities in those
states. As I explain in an earlier chapter, the information for this chapter comes from
various sources, including participant observation, interviews with activists,
organizational literature, and media coverage of relevant events.
Although the 1996 welfare reform act largely cut back government assistance to
low-income families, it led to expansions in publicly subsidized child care.1 Putting poor
mothers to work meant that someone else would have to take care of their children. In
1997, an estimated 3.5 million additional children were expected to need subsidized child
care due to the implementation of welfare reform, on top of the 7 million already
receiving it.2 To ease the transition from welfare to work, politicians at all levels invested
to expand and improve the subsidized child care system. Congress authorized more
federal funds for child care for low-income families through the Child Care and
Development Fund and TANF.3 Head Start programs were also expanded.4 President
Clinton’s 1997 White House Conference on Child Care also drew attention to the need to
expand and improve the nation’s child care system and to enhance child care workers’
training and earnings. State legislatures and local governments also increased their
investments in child care to help meet the growing demand for these services.5 By 2002,
33 states were spending more in state and federal funds on child care than on cash
assistance for poor families.6 Despite these increases, subsidized child care programs
were insufficient to meet the demand for them, which was growing as maternal
employment increased and real wages stagnated and declined for most Americans.7
National surveys of working families with children under 13 taken in 1997, when
states were just beginning to implement welfare reform, showed that the need for child
care subsidies was fairly widespread, but particularly acute among low-income, femaleheaded
households. This study found that child care used up an average of 9 percent of
monthly earnings for all working families in the study. For low-income single parents,
child care costs used up an average of 19 percent of their monthly earnings. Nearly onethird
(or 27 percent) of low-income families surveyed were spending more than 20
percent of their monthly earnings on child care.8
Even after child care programs were expanded in the late 1990s, these programs
were grossly under-utilized. National studies found that only about one third of parents
who left welfare for work received child care subsidies, while at most fifteen percent of
those eligible for federal child care subsidies received them. Poor outreach, cumbersome
application procedures, high co-payments, and shortages in child care spaces (particularly
for infant care and night care) contributed to these low figures.9
When fiscal conditions worsened after 2001, many states began to rollback their
subsidized child care programs, making it even more difficult for low-income parents to
access them. Researchers reported that, “..as of 2003, 32 states had cut child care
programs in 2002 or 2003 or were proposing to do so in 2004.”10 These cutbacks were
carried out in various ways, including lowering income limits for eligibility, creating
waiting lists, or closing programs, increasing co-payments, or reducing reimbursement
rates for providers or funds to improve the quality of child care. In 2002, 13 states
reduced their child care funds and 7 were unable to match federal funds for child care. By
2003, more than one-third of states reported waiting lists for child care assistance, often
affecting tens of thousands of children; in California, the waiting list was about
Another major problem in the U.S. child care system was the staffing crisis that
was exacerbated by child care workers’ low compensation. Average turnover among
child care workers in centers is about 41 percent per year. A study of 92 child care
centers found that, between 1996 and 2000, 76 percent of all child care workers had left
their jobs.12 Expansions in child care funding did little to raise child care workers’
salaries because few of these funds were used to improve workers’ training and wages.
Instead, as child care services for welfare recipients and low-income families increased,
“voucher payments limited by market rate reimbursement policies increased as a
proportion of public funding, and the lion’s share of the public resources flowed
increasingly to the least-trained and worst-paid sectors of the industry.”13 Most welfare
recipients, like most parents, relied on informal, license exempt child care workers or
licensed family based providers who were paid the least.14
A national study of the salaries of preschool teachers and child care workers
found that their national average annual incomes remained at poverty levels in 2004.
Child care workers earned an average of $18,060 annually, while preschool teachers
earned an average of $24,560. Salaries also varied across states, with child care workers
earning as low as $13,770 per year in Arkansas and preschool teachers earning as low as
$17,880 per year in Tennessee.15 Salaries for in-home providers were the worst in the
industry. National labor statistics from the late 1990s showed that the median hourly
wage for home-care providers ($3.37) was below that for fast food cooks ($5.42) and
parking lot attendants ($6.38).16 State policies contributed to these low salaries; more
than half of states set payment rates for providers of subsidized child care below the 75th
percentile of private costs, and as fiscal conditions worsened in 2002, a number of states
lowered or froze their payment rates.17 Providers’ financial difficulties were further
exacerbated by bureaucratic delays and problems in the approval and payment of child
care subsidies and lost paperwork.18 Providers caring for welfare recipients’ children
risked foregoing their pay or receiving it very late, causing many providers to refuse to
serve this population and to cause others to go out of business.
In this chapter, I take a closer look at three types of struggles over child care that
ensued in Wisconsin and California in the wake of welfare reform. First, some welfare
rights activists defended poor mothers’ right to take care of their children, pushing for
various exemptions from WTW requirements. Second, child care providers and
children’s advocates pushed for improvements in child care providers’ wages and
working conditions as well as their right to influence the development of child care
programs through collective bargaining. Finally, providers, low-income families, and
other children’s and welfare advocates demanded improvements in the availability of
child care services. These were certainly not the only struggles over child care that
occurred. Other struggles, often involving professional associations and state and local
child care officials, focused on the quality of subsidized child care and its regulation. I
focus on these three demands—low-income parents’ rights to provide care for their own
children, working parents’ access to affordable child care, and child care providers’ labor
rights—because they were the primary demands of grassroots organizations representing
low-income parents and those caring for their children. Before examining how these three
struggles played out in Wisconsin and California, I first put these struggles into the
context of rising activism among child care providers.
The Worthy Wage Movement and Unionization of Child Care Providers
Increased activism among child care providers was fostered by the post-1996
expansion of subsidized child care and the growing crisis of affordable child care, but it
depended on the energy and resources of activists within two inter-related movements:
the “worthy wage” movement and the union movement.
The “worthy wage” movement began in 1970 when child care teachers in various
cities began to raise consciousness about their need for higher wages. In these early years,
activists were mostly young, college educated white women who formed small support
groups and who framed their demands in terms of economic justice and women’s
liberation, and as part of a broader movement for a better child care system. They initially
raised consciousness about the need for higher wages within their professional
associations and produced research demonstrating links between wage levels and the
quality of services; after gaining support from their professional associations, they later
raised public consciousness about the issue through community and labor organizing. The
movement was largely coordinated by the Child Care Employment Project, which later
became a Washington DC-based research and lobbying organization called the Center for
the Child Care Workforce. The Worthy Wage Campaign, a multi-year public awareness
campaign, was launched in 1991 and quickly spread across the country. This campaign
involved a variety of actions, including walk-outs by providers, marches, demonstrations,
and public forums.
After 1995, the movement grew increasingly visible. As the child care industry
and home-based child care expanded in the wake of welfare reform, the movement grew
as more child care workers joined it and as it gained more support from unions,
researchers, program administrators, as well as policy-makers. The child care staffing
crisis, along with increased activism among child care providers and their clients, and
new research on brain development emphasizing the importance of children’s early years,
increased support for various child care initiatives. State and local governments in the
1980s and 1990s funded various pre-kindergarten programs; they also developed
initiatives to compensate child care workers’ training. Most of these wage improvement
initiatives were small, temporary programs that linked compensation to workers’ levels of
education, training, and experience in an effort to improve the quality of services by
increasing workers’ retention and professional development. 19
Although the Worthy Wage Campaign was largely a public awareness and
lobbying campaign, some activists in the movement and other child care workers formed
unions in their effort to improve their wages and working conditions. In the 1960s,
AFSCME organized child care workers in New York City, while center workers in
Massachusetts, Michigan, and Wisconsin joined the United Auto Workers in the 1970s.
In the 1980s and 1990s, more unions got involved in organizing workers in child care
providers in centers and Head Start programs, including SEIU, the American Federation
of Teachers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the Painters’ Union. These
early unionization campaigns were mainly done “in response to requests by center
employees to join a union, not as part of a strategic effort to organize the entire
As of 2004, only about three percent of the child care workforce belonged to a
union or were covered by a union contract.21 Until the late 1990s, unions had little
interest in organizing family-based child care workers partly because they were not
covered by existing labor laws, and thus had no legal right to collectively bargain,
because they were small business owners. Home-based providers organized in the 1980s
and 1990s, but did so through independent associations, such as Direct Action for Rights
and Equality (DARE) in Rhode Island, rather than through unions.22 There were three
other major challenges as well that discouraged unions from investing many resources
into organizing child care workers. Job turnover was extremely high and the work was
highly decentralized, scattering workers widely across job sites that usually employed
only a few workers. Moreover, many child care workers saw themselves as professionals
and did not identify readily with unions. Nevertheless, workers’ low pay, payment
problems, long work hours, and the lack of health care helped to make these workers ripe
for organizing. Formal and informal social networks created through their professional
associations and training experiences also facilitated their organization.23
Renewed interest among unions in organizing child care workers, including
home-based providers, emerged from unions’ interest in gaining new members in an
expanding industry as well as advocates’ interest in increasing their influence over child
care policies. From unions’ perspective, home-based child care workers represented a
growing sector of the low wage labor force. By 2007, there were approximately 1.8
million home-based providers, 99 percent of whom are women, who provided care for
about 42 percent of all children receiving child care services in the United States. Most
(804,000) of these providers are related to the children, while 650,000 are unrelated.
About 298,000 are non-relatives and work in the child’s home. Some of these providers
are regulated home-based centers, while others are friends, family, or neighbors who are
In the late 1990s, SEIU and AFSCME collaborated with child care advocates in
campaigns to organize providers in Seattle, Washington and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
experiences that encouraged unions to organize child care workers. SEIU also found
there was considerable interest in unionization among home-based child care providers
when it began organizing this sector in 1996. Keystone Research Center and other child
advocacy organizations organized two national conferences (1996 and 1998) to discuss
how to unionize child care workers, generating new strategic ideas. At about this time,
the Center for the Child Care Workforce also discussed the formation of a national child
care union with several unions. ACORN (a community organization) also began
organizing home-based providers in the late 1990s; by 2002, it was engaged in these
campaigns in six states. SEIU’s success in organizing home-based health care workers as
well as early campaigns to organize home-based child care providers by SEIU, ACORN,
and groups such as DARE, attracted the attention of organized labor and showed that this
sector could be organized.25
Eventually, both SEIU and AFSCME began large-scale efforts to organize child
care workers, initially focusing on workers in Head Start centers, and then focusing on
home-based providers. Unions developed a model for organizing home-based providers
based on the home-health care campaigns, which gained national attention when SEIU
organized 70,000 of these workers in Los Angeles. While the organizing models used by
unions vary slightly across states and counties, both seek to gain legal recognition of their
right to collectively bargain with the state through passage of special legislation or
executive orders by governors. Both unions are also organizing child care centers,
aggregating them across sites through the formation of unionized professional employee
organizations. In that model, the PEO becomes the employer of record for agencies
contracted with it and provides them with benefits and processes their payroll.26
By the start of 2007, campaigns to unionize home-based providers had occurred
or were underway in at least fourteen states.27 Most of these campaigns were conducted
by SEIU and AFSCME, but the AFT, UAW, CWA, and ACORN were involved in some
of these campaigns. Initially, there was fierce and bitter turf war between SEIU and
AFSCME, with accusations that each union was invading the other’s territory. In the
summer of 2006, the two unions signed an agreement through which they split up 17
states, split regions within Minnesota, and formed a joint union, the United Child Care
Union in California and Pennsylvania.28 AFSCME also formed partnerships to organize
child care providers with UAW in Michigan and CWA in New Jersey.29 The AFT, whose
educational foundation merged with the Center for the Child Care Workforce in 2002,
also formed a national Child Care Workforce Alliance, an “associate membership
program” for child care providers to join together to improve their working conditions
and unite “worthy wage” activists both inside and outside of labor unions (Whitebrook
Between 2005 and 2007, twelve states—Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland,
Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin—
gained legal authorization to represent child care workers and to negotiate with state
officials. Child care providers’ unions also obtained local authorization to represent them
in three Minnesota counties and two counties in Ohio. In three states—Rhode Island,
California, and Massachusetts—authorizing legislation was passed, but was vetoed by the
governor.30 Unions’ efforts to organize child care providers brought new vitality to state
and local campaigns to improve child care services. Not only did unions invest resources
into organizing child care providers; they also organized families receiving state child
Struggles to improve child care services and child care providers’ labor rights
were rooted in what Naples (1997) calls the “new consensus on the gendered nature of
the welfare state,” which assumes that poor mothers should be employed (or receiving
education and training to improve their employment opportunities). While broadly
supported, this consensus was contested by some welfare rights organizations which
defended low-income mothers’ rights to stay at home and provide care for their own
children. In what follows, I examine each of these types of struggles over child care
policies, first in Wisconsin and then in California.
Struggles to Defend Maternal Caregiving in Wisconsin
Advocates for poor mothers’ caregiving rights faced tremendous challenges
within Wisconsin, where the workfare regime was strongly enforced. As of October
1999, Wisconsin was only one of ten states requiring parents to return to work three
months after the birth of their children and the state. A one-year work exemption was
found in 23 states, and five states exempted welfare recipients from work for an even
longer period of time. Wisconsin also did not recognize five other types of work
exemptions for adult TANF recipients that were adopted by twenty or more other states.31
Various advocacy groups in Wisconsin urged politicians to allow welfare mothers
more time to care for their children. Welfare Warriors’ members, representing former and
current welfare mothers, ultimately sought to exempt all mothers of children under 18
from work requirements, arguing that their work as caregivers should entitle them to
welfare benefits. Welfare Warriors had difficulty finding allies among other advocacy
groups who believed that opposing W-2’s work requirements altogether would get little
support from state policy-makers. Disagreements over this issue were heated and ended
Welfare Warriors’ affiliation with Coalition to Save our Children (CSOC), a broad
coalition of children’s advocacy organizations.32
Most advocacy groups instead sought more modest exemptions from work
requirements, such as for mothers of infants or disabled children, which they believed
had a greater chance of winning. As a co-chair for the CSOC explained, CSOC’s agenda
is mainly driven by “what’s feasible and what some legislators are wiling to work on.”33
Along with other groups, the CSOC, the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, and
Wisconsin Council for Children and Families (WCCF) sought to exempt mothers with
children under one from work requirements.34 WCCF staff pointed out how this policy
would improve early childhood brain development by providing intensive care to infants
in their first months of life.35 WCCF’s “Women of Change” group, composed of about
sixteen W-2 participants, also testified at hearings, wrote letters, and visited legislators
about the need for more time to care for their children.36 A one-year maternity benefit for
W-2 participants was also supported by participants at the Wisconsin Works=Prosperity
conference, which drew about 800 people.37
Advocates found that there was “substantial opposition” to expanding the work
exemption for welfare recipients for a full year after the birth of welfare recipients’ child,
but they gained significant political support for a more modest maternity leave policy.
Beginning in 2003, Governor Doyle actively promoted a six-month work exemption for
welfare mothers, claiming that it would save about $4.2 million in child care subsidies.38
The head of the state’s Department of Workforce Development also supported Doyle’s
proposal. Supporters pointed out how the policy would reduce state expenditures as well
as address the shortage of infant care. Yet, even this modest proposal was vehemently
opposed by state legislators, especially Republicans, who claimed that it undermined the
emphasis placed on work within the W-2 system. Assemblyman Gard vocally attacked
this proposal, claiming that it represented a return to the old AFDC model. In May 2003,
the state legislature’s joint finance committee rejected the Governor’s plan to extend
maternity benefits for the first six months after childbirth. Opponents claimed that this
was a more generous maternity leave plan than other working women received. Senator
Moore urged her colleagues to reconsider the plan in light of recent findings by the U.S.
Census that only 34 percent of mothers with infants less than 12 months old worked fulltime.
She described the Joint Finance Committee’s decision as reflecting a “mean-spirited
grudge against women for reproducing when they are poor.” 39 The Governor’s
spokesman, Dan Leistikow, pointed out, “They are going to spend an extra $4 million so
that they can force new mothers to go to work instead of spending time with an infant.”40
Even as the Governor urged W-2 agencies to slash caseloads and to “’re-emphasize that
W-2 has a work focus,’” he continued to support a sixth-month maternity leave for W-2
participants in 2004. That year, the DWD estimated that the policy would save about $2.9
million in child care costs. Yet, opponents, like Representative Mike Heubsch argued that
W-2 participants shouldn’t get more time off than other working mothers.41
Advocates also supported exempting women with high-risk pregnancies from
work, pointing out how the rigid enforcement of work requirements among such women
caused hardship. As a former welfare mother testified,
I will have to move to a [homeless] shelter because my benefits were cut
off mainly because I [have a] very high risk pregnancy (losing my baby
possibly) and they still want me to work! I couldn’t do it.42
Both the sixth-month maternity leave plan and work exemptions for high-risk
pregnancies were rejected in 2005 and 2007 by the Joint Finance Committee, however.43
Children’s and disability rights advocates also urged policy-makers to allow
parents of disabled children to stay at home with their children and to exempt them from
the time limits for W-2.44 Even before W-2, mothers of disabled children, who found it
difficult to find child care for their children, were being sanctioned for non-compliance
with work requirements when they stayed home to care for their children. The Wisconsin
Council for the Developmentally Disabled (WCDD) was thus alarmed when they learned
that under W-2, “there was no ability for parents who took care of kids with disabilities to
stay home.”45 The WCDD began to document the struggles these women faced:
We did some surveys with families. We went into their homes and did
interviews and [made] a videotape called “My Work is at Home.” It tells
a story of three women who were taking care of kids with extreme
disabilities and how they were caught. … We tried to show the range of
disabilities in the video and the extent of what the women had to do at
home. We produced some [reports] about how much work it took to take
care of a child with disabilities.
Through such advocacy, as well as meetings between DWD officials, the WCCF, and the
WCDD, state welfare officials agreed that, for parents of disabled children, “your work at
home” could count towards W-2 work requirements. They also sought to better inform
caseworkers on the rights of parents of disabled children and the need to be more flexible
in terms of determining when they had a “good cause” to be non-compliant:
We produced a W2 record book so that a parent could take notes on all
their activities and how many doctors they go to and come in and show it
to the W2 worker. There’s a hell of a lot of ignorance in the W2
caseworkers. So that when they went onto the caseworker they had
something to show them because otherwise it was very hard for the family
to keep track. They could have 15 doctors and so this was another thing to
help them prove their cases of why they couldn’t be in the workforce …(to
help them with self-advocacy)….We funded the W-2 disability hotline and
the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families implemented it… We felt
we made real progress.46
In short, activists managed to expand the opportunities for parents of disabled
children to stay at home with their children. Efforts to expand low-income mothers’
rights to stay at home with their children were otherwise largely stymied; such demands
ran against the grain of the “work first” philosophy embraced by Wisconsin’s policymakers.
Improving Child Care Services: Workers’ Rights and Parents’ Rights in Wisconsin
As Jean Rogers, administrator for Division of Economic Support explained to the
press, “From the beginning, Governor (Tommy) Thompson has emphasized the need to
invest heavily in child care as a supportive service for working parents” (cited in Huston
1998a). With the adoption of W-2, the state tripled its investment in subsidized childcare,
investing $20 million dollars, and another $5 million in capacity building, which
succeeded in eliminating the state’s waiting list for care (Stewart 1997; Huston 1998).
This increased investment in childcare led to a rapid increase in the number of child care
providers. In the first few years of W-2, there was a surplus of child care funds as the
demand for subsidized child care did not rise as much as expected.
Despite the dramatic rise in state investments in subsidized child care, there were
numerous problems in the design and delivery of child care services in Wisconsin,
especially in the early years of W-2. The state allocated enough child care money to
provide coverage for 77,000 parents, but only 20,000 were using child care subsidies in
1998.47 Poor outreach, high co-payments and other burdensome regulations, inflexible
care schedules, and poor administration of the program prevented thousands of qualified
parents from using the state’s subsidized child care services. A survey by state welfare
officials found that more than half of former W-2 participants who didn’t use subsidized
child care relied on informal care arrangements with family members. 48 Such
arrangements were often preferred because they were less expensive and more likely than
regulated centers to offer evening and weekend care. Many low-income parents were also
not aware that they were eligible for subsidized child care because of poor outreach about
the program. According to W-2’s “light touch” philosophy, case workers should not offer
too much help to welfare applicants and clients because it would encourage dependency.
As a result, case workers frequently did not provide information about welfare services,
including subsidized child care, unless they were directly asked about them in the early
years of W-2.49 Low-income mothers also had difficulty getting approval for subsidized
childcare or found the co-payments too expensive.50
There were numerous complaints, from both parents and child care providers,
about the inefficiency of the child care system, especially during the initial
implementation of W-2. By November 1997, about 900 requests for child care subsidies
were backlogged and a similar backlog was reported in April 1998. School officials
complained that delays in approvals for child care subsidies was causing teen parents to
miss school.51 A survey of W-2 participants conducted by researchers at the University of
Wisconsin, Madison found that, “Child-care problems were common, including the fact
that children younger than 5 were left alone or in the care of a sibling no older than 12
while the adults were working.”52 Research revealed that, on average, W-2 participants in
Milwaukee had to wait five to six weeks after a job placement to receive approval for
subsidized child care.53 Once approved, participants had to renew their eligibility every
three months. This proved difficult for many working mothers given their work
Insufficient child care undercut the purported aim of W-2 of putting poor mothers
to work. Lack of child care contributed to a high rate of job turnover among W-2
participants (34%), a rate exceeding the rate for WTW participants in other major cities,
as well as a 40 percent unemployment rate among former W-2 participants.55 As a former
welfare mother explained, “Trying to get a job is hard without child care with six kids
and one on the way.”56 Insufficient child care also endangered children. By July 2000,
insufficient or inadequate child care arrangements for W-2 participants led to eight
reported child deaths. In one of these cases, a W-2 participant brought her two-year old to
the hotel where she worked. While she was speaking to her supervisor, he wandered
away and drowned in the hotel’s pool.57
Another highly publicized death involved a 13-year-old boy with cerebral palsy,
Deandre Reeves. Reeves accidentally scalded himself to death in a bath tub after his
mother, a W-2 participant without access to subsidized child care, left him in the care of
her teenage son. The teenager was downstairs making lunch when Deandre, unable to call
for help, turned on the hot-water faucet. Yvette Reeves, a single mother, was previously
exempt from work in order to take care of her disabled son during the summer months.
Her case worker, implementing the new rules under W-2, required her to work for Pizza
Hut.58 Publicity surrounding Deandre’s death helped disability rights advocates to push
for the expansion of child care services for sick and disabled children, which legislators
approved in 1999.59 As a staff member for WCDD explained,
[Originally] the childcare was only available top kids up to age 12. If you
had a child who was 13 and had severe disabilities you received no
childcare assistance, a significant problem. One of the women [we
interviewed] had a child who was turning 13, a boy with MD. She kept
saying what am I going to do? She’s only making minimum wage and if
she had to pay childcare that would eat up her whole salary.
Unfortunately, one child died and that is often how laws get changed.…
And [Senator] Gwen [Moore] successfully advocated for that language to
be changed. Its one of the first changes we got in W-2. …They changed
the law so that if you have a child with a severe disability you can get
childcare assistance up to age 18.
Bureaucratic problems in verifying eligibility for child care subsidies also caused
hardships. These problems were particularly acute in the first year of the program, when
child care subsidies had to get approved by both W-2 agencies and county workers,
located in two different offices. Although Milwaukee County set up a hotline to resolve
problems with the new child care system, the answering machine was often full and
responses were delayed.60 As a staff member of 9to5 explained,
We have a number of people who have experienced job loss because they
couldn’t get their childcare… This is partly due to the bureaucracy…
They’ll be assured that their W-2 placement will be there and their
childcare will be set up and then come the first day of work there is no
childcare. Then they can’t get to work obviously, and it begins a cycle.
They get sanctioned and the [caseworker] starts thinking, okay this person
isn’t serious. And often it’s just a situation of where things didn’t come
together as they were supposed to and people don’t have anyone with
whom to leave their children.
Delays and breakdowns in child care approvals and payments also negatively
affected child care providers who took care of W-2 participants’ children. The problems
became so severe in Milwaukee that Annette Wilburn, Vice President of the Metropolitan
Child Care Association and a member of the Milwaukee County Child Care Task Force
formed a new group to represent providers’ concerns: Providers Taking Action,
representing 75 home-based child care providers. Day Care Advocates of Milwaukee,
representing about 40 child care centers, also criticized the new system.61 Providers
Taking Action managed to gain support from sympathetic county supervisors, who
helped to prod county employees to fix individual payment problems and pay providers
more quickly. This pressure led to temporary improvements in providers’ payments, but
reductions in county staff and employee turnover led to new problems in processing the
payments and authorizations for subsidized child care.62
The financial burden of co-payments was particularly acute for teenage mothers
enrolled in high school, causing some teen parents to drop out. A coalition of children’s
advocates, parents, providers, school officials, and other policy-makers lobbied state
welfare officials to eliminate the co-payment for these teen mothers through an
administrative order. Although the state welfare director supported their elimination, the
Governor rejected it.63 Thompson claimed that teen mothers, like other working parents,
should pay for child care services. However, the Thompson administration agreed to
significantly reduce these co-payments required of teen parents to a maximum of $5 per
week, which represented a significant victory for advocates.64
Child care providers and other advocates also urged state officials to reduce the
co-payments for adult recipients and to raise the income ceilings for eligibility. The Ad19
Hoc Committee on W-2, a coalition of advocates, school officials, and policy-makers in
Milwaukee, called on state officials to suspend co-payments until W-2 participants
earned a “sustainable wage” of at least $7.70 per hour for at least two years.65 Other
activists urged state officials to reduce the maximum co-payments from 16 to 10 percent
of parents’ income.66 Child care providers rallied at the capitol with “day care dolls,”
demanding that the state use the expected $65 million in unspent child care funds to
reduce parents’ co-payments, which made it difficult for parents to use subsidized child
care and for providers to get paid for their services.67 Even the Mayor of Madison, Sue
Bauman, urged the Governor to reduce parents’ co-payments for child care, claiming that
it was causing too many child care centers to close down.68 As a member of 9 to 5
There are a lot of women that had childcare, got a little raise and lost it,
and now they are about to lose their job or [lost] their job because they
can’t afford the childcare….The ceilings are too low… We have been
lobbying for raising the ceilings so that more folks are included.
A report by the Children’s Defense Fund validated concerns about the state’s child care
system, highlighting the lack of outreach to low-income parents, the low income ceilings
for eligibility, and the high co-payments required of parents.69 Such problems may help
to explain why low-income children under five in Wisconsin were more likely than their
counterparts in other states to be under the care of relatives rather than child care
centers.70 In response to such concerns and public pressure, Governor Thompson
approved legislation to reduce the maximum co-payments from 16 to 12 percent of
families’ gross income, and lowered the income ceilings for eligibility.71
Child care providers and various advocacy groups also sought to prevent cutbacks
to child care programs. As fiscal conditions worsened after 2001, and as more and more
families began to use subsidized child care, child care budgets were stretched thin. State
politicians proposed various ways to reduce child care spending, including an increase in
parents’ co-payments, creating a waiting list for subsidized child care, and lowering the
income ceiling for eligibility. The state AFL-CIO opposed such proposals, along with
child and welfare advocacy groups and faith-based advocates. According to a staff person
Our childcare was threatened in terms of its funding and we were in a
deficit and there was concern that they would not be able to find funding
for the next fiscal year. And they were able to do that in part because
there was very real pressure on them from a number of groups who were
advocating for families to be able to access the childcare… [Funding] is
going to be maintained and that was a huge victory.
Child care providers organized to criticize cuts in rates to providers due to administrative
code change in Wisconsin Shares in midst of a state fiscal crisis; these reductions were
felt the most by providers that mainly served children in the W-2 program. More than 500
met at a local child care center in Milwaukee to discuss the problems this would cause.72
The expansion of subsidized child care and prior organizing by providers
facilitated their unionization by AFSCME, which began to organize child care providers
in 2006.73 By 2002, there were about three times as many providers in the city of
Milwaukee as compared to when W-2 was first implemented.74 Providers were also
already organized through professional associations as well as organizations such as
Providers Taking Action, which enabled union organizers to engage in bloc recruitment;
leaders of these organizations encouraged their members to join the union.75 AFSCME’s
campaign began in Madison and then moved to Milwaukee and other parts of the state.
Providers located in both urban and rural areas joined AFSCME’s Child Care Providers’
Together. The union was racially and ethnically diverse, including black, white, Latina,
and Asian providers, as well as Spanish- and Hmong-speaking providers.
In October, 2006, Governor James Doyle issued an executive order permitting all
subsidized and unsubsidized family child care providers and subsidized “family, friend,
and neighbor” providers to form a union and to negotiate with the state. The governor’s
executive order lists various bargainable issues, including “quality standards, training and
certification requirements, reimbursement and payment procedures, health & safety
conditions, and ‘any other matters and regulations that would improve recruitment and
retention…, encourage certified providers to become licensed and improve the quality of
the programs they offer…” AFSCME was certified to represent the providers after
registering union authorization cards from a majority of the 7,000 certified and licensed
providers covered in the Governor’s order.76
Participation in the state’s subsidized child care program rose considerably
between 2003 and 2006 as outreach for the program improved, eligibility expanded, and
the economy slowed. Facing budget deficits, policy-makers adopted various cutbacks to
subsidized child care. Higher co-payments were adopted in 2006, creating problems for
both providers and low-income families.77 Nevertheless, advocates celebrated when the
Governor prevented deeper cuts to subsidized child care that year. Governor Doyle
vetoed $16 million worth of cutbacks in subsidized child care, including a $40 per month
increase in co-payments, reductions in a program that encouraged providers to obtain
more education and training through wage subsidies, and cutbacks in a state resource and
By January 2007, W-2 was $187 million in debt, with the state’s subsidized child
care program making up 69 percent or $128 million dollars of this deficit. The DWD
froze reimbursement rates to 2006 levels, stopped filling vacant positions, and began to
reimburse providers based on attendance rather than enrollment. The DWD also
considered other policies to reduce child care spending, including the creation of a wait
list, reducing income ceilings for eligibility, and lowering reimbursement rates. Oma Vic
McMurray, child care provider from Madison: “Once again they’re trying to stretch [the
budget] on the backs of child care workers. It’s just not the answer.”79 Proposed cutbacks
were opposed by Milwaukee-area legislators and advocates of the poor, such as 9to5 and
WCCF.80 Hundreds of child care providers attended a series of legislative budget
hearings where they urged full funding for the program. Despite other cutbacks made in
the Governor’s child care budget proposal, legislators fully funded child care subsidies in
2007, a victory celebrated by child care advocates and child care providers’ union.81
In short, child care providers and other child care advocates made a number of
important gains in Wisconsin. Child care providers formed a new union and gained the
legal right to negotiate with state officials over policies affecting their working
conditions. They and other advocates also managed to expand eligibility for subsidized
child care through lower fees and higher income ceilings for eligibility, and averted a
number of cutbacks in subsidized child care.
Struggles over Mothers’ Rights to Provide Care in California
Prior to the implementation of welfare reform in California, welfare mothers were
only required to work after their child’s third birthday. As state politicians designed
CalWORKS, Governor Wilson proposed that adult recipients of TANF be required to
work as early as 12 weeks after childbirth, the policy that was adopted in Wisconsin.
Democrats proposed a more generous policy of providing recipients with 12 months of
paid maternity leave. The Executive Director of the Coalition of California Welfare
Rights Organizations claimed that even Democrats’ proposal was too harsh and was, “the
start of the coming slaughter that poor babies and children with families will be facing in
1998.” 82 The policy adopted in California represented a compromise between
Republicans and Democrats, allowing counties to exempt mothers of young children up
to one year of age but not less than 12 weeks old.83
After the new work requirements for welfare recipients were established, most
welfare advocates focused on other issues, but some continued to advocate for mothers’
rights to provide care for their children. One of those groups was the Los Angeles chapter
of the Every Mother is a Working Mother Network (EMWM). This organization was
formed in 1997 by members of the International Campaign for Wages for Housework.84
Although EMWM had a fairly large mailing list, the Los Angeles group was mainly run
by a small core group of about 10 to 20 volunteers, virtually all women.85
EMWM was committed to work on a long-term process of raising consciousness
about the need for to compensate mothers’ caregiving work, even if gains on this issue
were unlikely in the short-run. EMWM argued that poor mothers should be entitled to
welfare as compensation for their unpaid, but socially useful care-giving work:
‘Women’s work’ of producing and daily reproducing the entire workforce
is the basic ingredient of every economy and of all profit. Counting the
value of that work, we establish our entitlement to welfare… These are
rights, not charities, wages we are owed for the unwaged work we do and
have done for centuries (International Wages for Housework Campaign
EMWM opposed the forced employment of welfare mothers because it is based on the
false premise that welfare mothers are not already working: “EMWM seeks to establish
that the time spent by mothers raising children and the economic value of their work must
be reflected in welfare reform… policies.”86
To protect low-income mothers’ rights to welfare, EMWM participated in
numerous demonstrations, including the national “Stop the Clock Campaign,” which
urged the President to support a moratorium on time limits for welfare receipt.87 They
also urged that welfare benefit levels be raised to better compensate welfare mothers for
their care-giving work, claiming that, “Good care deserves good cash.” 88 The
organization also organized community dialogues, forums, and teach-ins on welfare
reform reauthorization where its members criticized the lack of a family allowance in the
United States, the lack of paid maternity leave, as well as welfare cutbacks.89 EMWM
defended welfare rights both as “carers’ right to payment,” as well as “children’s right to
care” (EMWM 2001b). It denounced welfare reform as “’a racist attack,’” pointing out
that “the majority of those on welfare are women and children of color.’”90
Like Welfare Warriors in Wisconsin, EMWM found few allies among welfare
rights groups or policymakers to actively support welfare mothers’ right to stay at home
with their children.91 Local welfare rights groups mainly worked within the basic
framework of the new workfare regime rather than challenging its devaluation of poor
mothers’ caregiving work, a goal that appeared unwinnable in the short term.
Nevertheless, EMWM and their allies did make some gains in terms of expanding poor
mothers’ rights to provide care for their children. In meetings with EMWM and other
welfare advocates, welfare officials in Los Angeles County agreed to require their staff to
inform CALWORKS recipients that they could not be sanctioned for refusing child care
that they find unsuitable and might be eligible for payment as a “homecare worker” if
they were caring for a family member.92
Struggles to Improve Subsidized Child Care in California: Parents and Providers Rights
Child care and welfare advocates confronted two kinds of inter-related problems
with the state’s subsidized child care system. First, child care providers and their allies
organized to improve providers’ wages, benefits, and access to training and to reduce late
payments for subsidized care. Low wages and poor working conditions for child care
workers contributed to severe shortages of child care placements within the state, the
second major issue that advocates sought to address. While eligibility policies for
subsidized child care in California were fairly liberal, the lack of child care funds led to
severe shortages of placements. When fiscal conditions deteriorated after 2001, proposed
cutbacks in subsidized child care threatened to worsen the crisis. As in Wisconsin,
advocates challenged, with considerable success, these proposed cutbacks. They also
promoted universal preschool to expand the availability of child care services. While the
statewide initiative to create universal preschool failed, a large pilot program was
developed in Los Angeles County, setting a precedent for the rest of the state.
Campaigns for Child Care Providers’ Labor Rights in California
The expansion and restructuring of California’s subsidized child care provided
new opportunities to organize providers around their concerns with poor working
conditions. By 2000, there were about 47,000 child care providers in California, with
11,000 located in Los Angeles County. Two groups began to organize child care
providers in Los Angeles County in 1999: the Welfare Reform Coalition (WRC) and
ACORN.93 WRC, a coalition of welfare rights activists and social service providers,
organized licensed providers and working parents around child care issues.94 To increase
attention on child care issues, WRC staff members wrote several reports and articles
documenting problems in the county’s bureaucratically complex and under-funded child
care program.95 WRC’s child care campaign proved to be short-lived. In 2001, the WRC
lost both its director and most of its staff and, under its new director, the organization
shifted its focus. Meanwhile, ACORN expanded its child care campaign, which initially
focused on licensed-exempt providers, to include licensed providers.
ACORN’s child care campaign grew out of its efforts to organize welfare
mothers, many of whom had difficulty with finding child care. The county frequently
paid their child care providers late or failed to pay them for all the hours they worked. In
response, many child care providers refused to take care of welfare mothers’ children,
creating an obstacle for welfare mothers who needed to find jobs and work.96 As they
began to organize to improve the administration of subsidized child care, welfare mothers
began to bring their child care providers to meetings and actions.
In 2000, welfare mothers and child care providers jointly protested the county’s
pay structure for child care workers. For state subsidized child care, licensed-exempt (in27
home) providers were paid $2.93/hour, while licensed providers were paid under $4/hour
per child. Some of these providers, especially the unlicensed child care providers caring
for relatives or friends’ children, only took care of one child. As a result, they were paid
less than the minimum wage. To protest these low wages, a group of about twenty
welfare mothers, child care providers, and lawyers held a press conference in the State
Labor Commissioner’s office, calling on him to investigate the state for violation of the
minimum wage law. Wielding giant stuffed dogs, they expressed outrage that the
county’s child care providers were paid far less than the county’s dog catchers. One
welfare mother explained how these low wages did not simply harm the providers, but
also the parents and children who relied on them:
When we have to leave our children in the hands of under-paid and
resentful providers, we as parents have a much harder time staying
focused on our work. How can the state place such a low priority on the
well-being of our children.97
Welfare mothers also pointed out that the county was encouraging many of them to
become paid child care providers, but that this would not help them to get out of poverty
given the current wage structure. At the time of the protest, the state had a $12 billion
dollar surplus, which ACORN members argued should be used to increase the wages for
child care providers.98 While the Labor Commissioner agreed to look into the matter,
there was no official change in county pay scales.
After a few such joint actions between welfare mothers and their child care
providers, ACORN formed Child Care Providers for Action (CCPA). Within a year,
CCPA grew to become a three-hundred member organization of mostly Latina and
African-American child care providers. Many Latina members were Spanish-speaking,
and CCPA took measures to maximize their participation within the organization. They
hired a bilingual organizer, used simultaneous translation equipment for meetings, and
translated all flyers into both Spanish and English. CCPA members were also careful to
elect a balanced number of African-Americans and Latinas to leadership positions in the
organization.99 Although an African-American male organizer was originally assigned to
the campaign, it is currently being organized by two women staff members, one of whom
is Latina and the other who is African-American.100 Membership meetings drew about
75-85 people, while a Child Care Providers’ Health and Safety Fair attracted several
At first, ACORN focused on holding the county’s resource and referral agencies
accountable for their irregular payments to child care providers, which made it very
difficult for them to stay in business and serve low-income families.102 Los Angeles
County’s welfare department contracted out the administration of subsidized child care to
about a dozen non-profit resource and referral (R&R) agencies that also helped families,
regardless of income, to locate licensed child care services.103 In earlier meetings with
other child care advocates, local welfare officials agreed to reduce delays in payments to
child care providers and require child care resource and referral agencies to be
accountable to welfare mothers and community advocates.104 Nevertheless, problems
with late payments persisted.
To hold the R&R agencies accountable for late payments, ACORN negotiated
agreements with them to create a grievance system and to process providers’ complaints
in a timely fashion.105 CCPA experienced the most resistance to their demands from an
agency called Equipoise. Only after CCPA stormed the agency’s offices, did the agency
agree to adopt the new grievance procedures. Through this new grievance system, many
child care providers obtained their back pay.106 The Los Angeles Alternative Payment
Alliance, representing the R&R agencies, also cooperated with ACORN, allowing it to
use their facilities to hold a candidates’ forum, where CCPA members urged legislative
candidates to increase reimbursement rates for subsidized child care.107
CCPA also lobbied public officials to improve child care providers’ working
conditions. In 2001 and 2002, CCPA lobbied for increased state funding for child care to
provide for living wages and health insurance for childcare workers and for increases in
subsidized child care for low-income families. CCPA, along with more than 200 other
ACORN members, went to the state capital to demonstrate and lobby.108 In 2003 and
2004, CCPA members worked with staff from Insuring the Uninsured Project to develop
a health insurance program for child care providers. To develop plans for this program,
CCPA conducted a survey of their members about their health insurance needs. This
survey revealed that most respondents were licensed child care providers who worked
full-time and had minor children of their own. More than half, or 60 percent, earned less
than $39,000, while nearly half (46 percent) lacked health insurance. They also met with
representatives of various health insurance providers to identify the best plan for their
By 2004, CCPA claimed 1,200 members in Los Angeles, and had attracted the
interest of SEIU. Interest in unionization was strong among child care providers, who
were eager to improve their working conditions and to oppose proposed cutbacks to the
state’s child care program. Although ACORN mainly organized providers within the city,
its office received calls from providers throughout the county and even from neighboring
counties. SEIU was interested in initiating a statewide campaign to organize child care
providers and offered a large sum to ACORN to hand over their campaign to their union.
ACORN agreed, believing that it was in the best interest of providers for the union to
take over the campaign since they had more resources for organizing. ACORN’s
agreement to hand over their child care campaign to SEIU, an agreement ratified by
CCPA members, was announced at ACORN’s national convention in Los Angeles.109
After taking control of CCPA, SEIU engaged in a statewide “organizing blitz,”
that involved as many as 40 organizers to collect union cards from child care providers.
Organizers from other cities were sent to Los Angeles, where about 1,000 union
authorization cards were collected. About 700 cards were collected in other cities in the
state.110 Afterward, SEIU assigned a team of local organizing staff to organize regional
meetings, distribute local newsletters, and develop leadership skills among members.
Over the next few years, SEIU organized a number of state-wide lobby days. At
these events, hundreds of child care providers and their clients from various counties
converged at the state capitol, rallied, and visited their local legislators. Through this
lobbying, SEIU members, parents, and other child care advocates managed to avert
proposed cutbacks in subsidized child care and to obtain support for an increase in the
reimbursement rates for providers. AFSCME and SEIU pursued, but did not win, support
for a bill that would give child care providers the legal right to form a union and engage
in collective bargaining. They also failed to gain state legislators’ support for subsidizing
a health insurance plan for child care providers. Instead, union activists sought funding
from county supervisors and supported statewide campaigns to expand subsidized health
SEIU’s investment in their child care campaign has been uneven, however,
creating problems in maintaining support from members and leaders. There was
considerable staff turnover in the Los Angeles child care campaign, which SEIU staff
acknowledged created considerable distrust between child care providers and the union.
While half a dozen organizers were assigned to the Los Angeles campaign in 2005, by
2007 there was only one organizer assigned to organize child care providers in Los
Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside Counties.111 While some of this staff turnover
was simply due to the transfer of staff to other projects and cities, it also reflected
hesitation by the union to fully invest in the campaign when their legal right to represent
home-based child care providers was uncertain, both because of the lack of authorizing
legislation and because of competition from AFSCME. Indeed, SEIU”s child care
campaign was temporarily put on hold while AFSCME and SEIU brokered an agreement
to end their “turf war” over child care organizing in California and other states.
According to the agreement, SEIU would represent child care providers in 13
California counties, including Los Angeles County, while AFSCME represented
providers in the rest of the state’s counties, and the two unions agreed to pool resources
for common campaigns (Interviews, SEIU staff, 2006). Tensions among the unions
remained, however. Many AFSCME members and leaders remained bitter towards SEIU;
some staff believed they were pressured into this agreement, which forced them to cede
ground to SEIU, which had raided their unions.112 SEIU, meanwhile, was disappointed
when AFSCME organized its own lobby day and did not participate in the Child Care
Lobby Day that SEIU planned in 2006.113 By 2007, relations improved between the two
unions and they engaged in a joint Child Care Lobby Day to support a bill to authorize
child care providers’ unions the right to form a union and negotiate with public officials
over the policies shaping subsidized child care. A similar bill passed the legislature in
2006, but was vetoed by the governor.
Campaigns to Improve Access to Child Care Services in California
Another major problem with California’s child care system was the lack of child
care services. In Wisconsin, strict and burdensome regulations for subsidized child care
contributed to the under-utilization of these services in the early years of W-2, despite a
surplus of child care funds in the early years of W-2. In California, eligibility rules were
more liberal but funding was inadequate. A 2001 study showed that California was more
liberal in terms of its eligibility rules for subsidized child care compared to four other
large states (New York, Texas, Illinois, and Florida) in terms of covering children up to
age 13, having a higher income ceiling for eligibility, and requiring lower fees.114 Total
state and federal child care funding more than tripled between 1996 and 2005, from $926
million to $3.3 billion.115 Nevertheless, child care funds were insufficient to meet the
growing demand for subsidized child care in the state, leaving hundreds of thousands of
qualified children without subsidized child care.
By 2003, the California Department of Education (CDE) estimated that as many
as 260,000 families were on waiting lists for subsidized child care in the state. The CDE
study, based on data from nine California counties, found that 70.8 percent of families
waiting for subsidized child care had been waiting for over one year and that about half
(50.3 percent) of these families had been waiting for at least four years.116 Families were
technically eligible to receive child care subsidies if they earned up to 75 percent of the
state’s median income. However, limits in the state child care budget, and rules that gave
priority to serving current and former welfare recipients and the lowest income families
meant that only families earning 35 percent of the state’s median income typically
received it.117 Because priority was given to current and former welfare families, the most
serious child care shortages were among low-income families.118
For all families, licensed child care centers were also scarce, partly because low
child care wages made it difficult to maintain and staff centers. Statewide, there were
only one licensed day care space available for every five children in need in 1999, and in
at least seven counties, this ratio was more than one to six.119 In Banning, which had one
of the lowest number of licensed day care spaces per child in the state, about sixty
children regularly used the public library in the afternoon because they had nowhere else
to go.120 The Fresno County Child Care Planning Council found that “many rural areas
have no licensed child care facilities.”121 Especially lacking were non-English speaking
providers, making it difficult for immigrants with limited English proficiency to utilize
subsidized child care. A 2001 study found that just over one-third of child care centers
serving Spanish-speaking children had providers that spoke the language, and the
shortage of providers speaking other languages was even more severe.122
Child care providers and other advocates pushed for greater state and local
investments in child care services. Shortages were particularly deep in the state’s largest
county, Los Angeles, where more than 42,000 low-income families in the county
remained on waiting lists for subsidized child care, while fewer than one in ten of the
450,000 children served by CALWORKs were receiving it in 1999.123 About 250
community organizations urged Los Angeles County officials to expand the county’s
after-school child care program, partly through the county’s “Child Care Task Force.” In
response to advocates’ concerted lobbying, county supervisors agreed to create a $74
million free after-school program in 225 public schools that served both welfare mothers
and low-income families. Once created, EMWM and its allies pushed for improvements
in the after-school program by meeting with the local school officials who ran it. Some
of these meetings were organized as “community dialogues,” held at EMWM’s office,
and included about 50 community members.124 In meetings with EMWM and other child
care advocates, local welfare officials also agreed to provide child care for 11 and 12
A child care committee formed by the Asian Pacific Policy Planning Council
(which represented over 50 Asian-American service organizations) similarly used their
participation in the county’s Child Care Task Force, and other meetings with county
supervisors, to improve the availability of child care to Asian immigrants with limited
English proficiency. They persuaded county officials to allocate funds to raise the
number of Asian-American child care providers and provide child care outreach to lowincome
In 1999, the Welfare Reform Coalition mobilized 270 low-income parents for a
“Parents’ Convention on Child Care.” Out of their discussions with parents, the Welfare
Reform Coalition formulated a “families’ first” child care agenda. They called for
maintaining quality and choice in child care services, but also urged (1) a simpler
application process, (2) greater flexibility in terms of hours and care for infants and sick
or disabled children, (3) more prompt responses by county agencies to applications,
referrals, payments, and complaints, as well as (4) greater stability in services
provided.127 It also released a report, Transforming Child Care from the Ground Up,
based on their survey of poor families about their needs. The report documented
persistent problems in the county’s child care system and called for more child care funds
and better administration of services.128 Because many parents were not accessing child
care services for which they were eligible the Welfare Reform Coalition educated lowincome
parents about their rights to child care through the distribution of small, easy-toread
Actions to increase the availability of child care also occurred in other
municipalities. In San Francisco, about 200 people marched to City Hall during “Speak
Up for Kids” day, and urged local politicians to provide more funds for child care
services and to support universal child care.130 In Fresno County, where 6,000 children
remained on the waiting list for subsidized child care, the Children’s Services Network
held a 2-hour vigil to highlight the need for more child care money. Participants held
hundreds of green balloons to symbolize all of the families waiting for child care, some
of whom had been waiting since 1985, and urged state legislators to add $300 million
dollars to the child care budget.131
Beginning in 2001, as fiscal conditions worsened, expansions in the state’s
subsidized child care slowed and various new restrictions for child care eligibility were
proposed. State and federal funding for child care declined in inflation-adjusted dollars
by 4.3 percent between 2001 and 2005. The child care income eligibility ceiling was also
frozen administratively beginning in 2001.132 In 2001, Governor Davis vetoed $24
million from the CalWORKS budget, telling policy-makers that he would only restore the
funds after they restructured the system for distributing child care subsidies so that more
working poor families would receive them. 133 Former welfare recipients who had
received subsidized child care for more than two years were notified that they would be
cutoff from subsidies. Low-income parents affected by the cuts and other children’s
advocates mobilized against the proposed cutback. For example, in Los Angeles, the
CCPA initiated a postcard campaign, collecting signatures from parents using their
services. The postcards urged the Governor to increase funds for subsidized child care
and opposed his proposed cutbacks.134 In response to this pressure, the governor restored
$18.7 million dollars to the child care budget to prevent cutoffs that were expected to
affect about 3,000 families per month.135
In 2002, California experienced the “steepest revenue drop since World War II.”
While Democrats and advocates of the poor lobbied for increasing state revenues through
new taxes and fees, Governor Davis opposed such proposals. The Davis administration
instead advocated for various cutbacks in social services and new restrictions on the use
of subsidized child care.136 The governor proposed to “increase parent fees, reduce
provider rates, and cut about 20,000 children out of the system.” He pushed for new rules
that would lower the age limit for receiving care to 12 (rather than 13 years), lowering the
income ceiling for eligibility, and eliminate the preference for serving former welfare
families. The governor’s administration estimated that the new rules would create nearly
125,000 new child care placements, two-thirds of which would be offered through
before- and after- school programs. The governor defended the plan, claiming that it
would expand the number of working poor families receiving subsidized child care.
Advocates of children and the poor criticized the governor’s plan, claiming that it
simply created new child care slots by taking child care away from other low-income
families.137 The Children’s Advocacy Institute claimed that the new policies would create
hardships for low-income families, while the Western Center on Law and Poverty said
that the proposed budget plan would disproportionately hurt the most disadvantaged.138
Participants at the Working Families Policy Summit called for a comprehensive child
care plan and urged $1.2 billion more for child care services to cover the 232,000
children that needed subsidized child care but were not receiving it.139 The proposed
cutbacks to subsidized child care were also criticized at a forum for non-profit
organizations, where agencies expressed concerns about how the cutbacks would impact
low-income families.140 Child care providers signed petitions against the plan and
expressed concerns in a meeting with the state welfare director. They claimed that the
proposed fees were unrealistic and would force families out of the child care system.141
Along with parents, providers, and other child care advocates, members of CCPA
testified about the negative repercussions that proposed cutbacks would have to
California Child Development Policy Advisory Committee. They emphasized how the
proposed cutbacks would force parents back onto welfare and put their child care centers
out of business.142 They also organized a “public forum” on child care, attended by state
and local politicians, to opposed the proposed cutbacks and promote improvements in the
state’s child care policies.143 In response to advocates’ pressure, the Governor backed
down from the proposed cutbacks. As one reporter put it, “After months of intensive
lobbying, ‘stakeholders meetings’ and parent protests, the state’s $3.2 billion child care
industry was left untouched.”144
In 2003, the Governor proposed another round of budget cuts, including a
proposal to end guaranteed child care subsidies for former welfare mothers, a policy that
would force them to compete with other low-income families for child care subsidies.145
The Governor also proposed giving control over child care funds to counties, which could
lead to future cutbacks if counties reallocated the funds. Critics pointed out how the
proposed social service cuts, including proposed changes to the subsidized child care
system, would drive people out of the labor market and force them back onto welfare.146
Almost 100 concerned parents and child care providers gathered in downtown Redlands
to protest the proposed changes to the subsidized child care system.147 In Los Angeles,
1,000 people marched in opposition the proposed cutbacks in social services. The march,
organized by the Say Yes to Children Network, included preschoolers, CCPA, and other
children’s advocates and service providers.148 Parents Voices (an organization of parents
receiving subsidized child care formed by the California Child Care Resource and
Referral Network) organized a rally at the state capitol in opposition to the proposed
cutbacks in subsidized child care.149
Facing a $14 billion deficit, Governor Schwarzenegger’s budget plan for 2004
included $165 million more in cuts in child care services, including new three-year time
limits for child care subsidies for former welfare recipients, a 40% reduction in payments
to relatives caring for children, and increases in parents’ fees expected to impact 77,250
families. Other proposals would cutoff child care subsidies for 11 and 12 year-olds unless
they can not be served by an after-school program in their area.150 In 2005, the governor
proposed even harsher restrictions, limiting guaranteed child care subsidies to former
welfare recipients to one-year. 151 Child care workers, parents, and kids protested
proposed child care cuts.152 At a town hall meeting “dozens of working single mothers”
vocally opposed the proposed cutbacks.153 County supervisors expressed concerned about
the local impacts of the proposed cutbacks.154 The Central Valley Children’s Services
Network pointed out how the proposed cutbacks would hurt cost workers jobs, especially
impacting low wage agricultural and service workers who spent about 32-42% of their
income on child care for one child in Tulare County.155 Parent Voices organized a letterwriting
campaign against the proposed cuts to subsidized child care.156 Democrats urged
tax increases and ends to prior tax breaks, calling the proposed service cuts “a tax on the
poor” and “immoral.” Five Bay-area legislators vocally opposed proposed cuts to
subsidized child care at a forum of child care providers and advocates.157 Child care
providers unions also urged politicians to reject the proposed cutbacks in subsidized child
care through their annual Lobby Days which drew hundreds of providers to Sacramento.
Tax revenues were higher than expected in 2004 and the Governor softened his proposed
time limits for subsidized child care.158 A new fee structure for subsidized child care was
adopted, however, causing parents to pay more in fees.159
Parents Voices, child care providers, and other child care advocates celebrated the
aversion of $67 million worth of proposed cuts in child care in 2006.160 Patty Siegel,
director of the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network, speaking at a rally
of working parents in Sacramento, remarked that, “We’ve had such huge fights these last
five years just to keep what we have. This has been the first year that we’ve had a little
reprieve.” The group urged policy-makers to raise the income ceiling for eligibility for
subsidized child care, which had been frozen at 1998 levels at $35,000 a year for a family
Various ballot initiatives, promoted by children’s advocates, helped to generate
new sources of funding for child care programs, even as legislators were rolling back
funds for subsidized child care. Proposition 10, a state tax on tobacco for childhood
health and development projects for children during their first five years, provided an
important new source of revenue for child care programs. In 2002, the Los Angeles
County Prop 10 commission voted unanimously to spend $100 million on a pilot program
for universal preschool for every 3- to-4-year-old in the county, but initially targeting
low-income children. At the time, at least 100,000 toddlers were on the county’s wait list
for subsidized child care.162 Other counties in California used Proposition 10 money to
improve child care workers’ salaries or for capital improvement projects for child care
centers.163 In 2006, voters passed Proposition 49, authorizing funds to expand afterschool
Also in 2006, children’s advocates and child care providers’ unions promoted a
state ballot initiative, Proposition 82, to create a statewide universal preschool program
for all four-year old children, but they were unsuccessful. An organized campaign to
defeat the proposition, funded by wealthy donors and business groups, and opponents
vehemently attacked Rob Reiner, head of the state’s Proposition 10 commission, for
using state funds to advocate for the initiative managed to defeat the proposition despite
early polls showing broad support for it. In response to the strong support for expanding
the state’s preschool programs, the legislature and the Governor passed a bill to authorize
$50 million to expand preschool programs for children living in the areas of the lowest performing
schools and another $50 million to improve preschool facilities.165 While
significant, the bill was expected to only serve about 8,500 of the 500,000 4-year olds in
California, and paled in comparison to preschool initiatives authorized in other states. For
example, Georgia, with only about one-quarter of California’s population spent $245
million for preschool for four-year olds.166
In short, child care advocates in California succeeded in pushing for various state
and local expansions to the state’s child care system and in averting various proposed
cutbacks that emerged as the state’s fiscal conditions worsened. These accomplishments
were celebrated by child care officials, children’s and welfare advocacy groups, as well
as child care providers and low-income parents and children organized by ACORN,
SEIU, AFSCME, and Parents Voices. Despite these victories, hundreds of thousands of
low-income families remained on waiting lists for subsidized child care in California due
to insufficient funds.
The emphasis of putting poor mothers to work within welfare reform policies
created setbacks in terms of poor mothers’ rights to provide care to their own children.
Few welfare rights groups sought to defend those rights given the broad and strong
political support for work requirements for welfare mothers. Groups that did defend such
rights found few allies, but nevertheless, managed to make small gains, such as
expanding the work exemptions for mothers of infants or for parents of disabled children.
On the other hand, welfare reform increased opportunities to expand and improve
subsidized child care programs, opportunities that were seized by community
organizations and unions. The expansion of subsidized child care, and tough new work
requirements, increased the numbers of low-income working mothers that needed these
services and the numbers of home-based child care providers. In the wake of welfare
reform, both of these groups, mainly women of color, became more organized and
brought new grassroots energy, into state and local campaigns to improve child care
policies that were formerly dominated by white, middle class professionals in the child
care field.167 These campaigns were largely carried out by women, who dominate the
child care industry and are also the primary consumers of these services.
Campaigns to unionize home-based child care providers provided new resources
and political muscle behind efforts to improve subsidized child care. Efforts to unionize
child care providers in Wisconsin and California are part of a growing national trend. The
payoffs of unionization appear to be substantial. By 2007, child care unions negotiated
statewide contracts in three states: Illinois, Oregon, and Washington. These contracts
included significant gains for child care providers, including “substantial increases in
reimbursement rates, more efficient payment procedures, a process for resolving
grievances, greater access to training, and a stronger voice in rulemaking. And in the
cases of Illinois and Washington, the unions won state financing for some [home-based]
providers.” Contract negotiations also led to rate increases for child care centers receiving
state subsidies.168 Unions, even those without recognition, helped to increase pressure on
public officials to make child care more accessible to working families by raising the
income-eligibility ceilings for subsidized child care and reducing parents’ fees.169 Thus,
both child care providers and working families have much to gain from the unionization.
To what extant state and local campaigns to organize child care providers and to improve
child care policies, and victories at those levels, might help to reshape national child care
and welfare policies is the subject of the next chapter.
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1 There are four major sources of child care funds: (1) child care block grant funds, (2)
discretionary child care block grant funding, (3) TANF funds, and (4) state child care
funds (Parrott and Mezey 2003).
2 Healy and Lesher 1997.
3 This is a block-grant program that provides states with a fixed subsidy. Unlike
entitlement programs, it is not expanded to meet growing needs.
4 Head Start programs were expanded to serve children as young as 6 months and to
provide full-time care for longer periods (News Service Reports 1997).
5 A federal audit of 9 states found that, while TANF caseloads fell dramatically, child
care spending rose significantly between 1995 and 2000, then rose more gradually from
2000 to 2004. (Bellis and Czerwinski 2006)
6 Marcucci 2002b.
7 Whitebrook 2001.
8 Giannarelli and Barsimantov 2000.
9 Giannarelli and Barsimantov 2000; Savner et al. 2002: 6, 9.
10 Parrott and Mezey 2003: 2.
11 Capizanno, Adams, and Sonenstein 2003: 2-4.
12 Whitebrook, Howes, and Phillips 1990 and Whitebook, Sakai, Gerber, and Howes
2001, cited in Brooks 2003: 3.
13 Whitebrook 2001: 45.
14 Official labor statistics that, in 2000, of the 2.3 million workers paid to care for a child
age 5 years or younger in the U.S., 28 percent were family-based providers, while 35
percent were paid relatives (Center for the Child Care Workforce and Human Services
Policy Center 2002: 2).
15 Child care workers’ salaries were only about 3 percent higher than what they earned
five years earlier. Preschool teachers’ salaries increased at a higher rate (by 10.5 percent)
in this same five-year period, partly due to the expansion of universal preschool programs
(American Federation of Teachers Center for the Child Care Workforce 2006).
16 Dickerson 1998.
17 Capizanno, Adams, and Sonenstein 2000: 5.
18 Brooks 2005.
19 Whitebrook 2001: 44-45.
20 Keystone Research Center 2006: 1.
21 Chalfie, Blank, and Entmacher 2007: 6.
22 Whitebrook 2001.
23 Brooks 2003, 2005.
24 Chalfie et al. 2007: 6.
25 11/10/02; Whitebrook 2001; Keystone Research Center 2006; Brooks 2003, 2005.
26 Keystone Research Center 2006: 2-4.
27 Chalfie et al. 2007.
28 According to this agreement, SEIU would organize child care workers in Arizona,
Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, and Rhode
Island. AFSCME would organize them in Hawaii, Michigan, Oklahoma, New Jersey,
New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
29 Keystone Research Center 2006: 3-4; Chalfie et al. 2007: 12.
30 Chalfie et al. 2007; AFSCME Works Online 2007; SEIU Kids First Maryland. 2007;
Smith 2007; American Federation of Teachers 2007.
31 Center for Law and Social Policy and Center for Budget and Policy Priorities 2000.
32 Coalition to Save Our Children member 2000; Gowens 1999.
33 Coalition to Save Our Children member 2000.
34 Coalition to Save Our Children member 2000.
35 Wisconsin Council for Children and Families staff 2001.
36 Coalition to Save Our Children member 2000.
37 Dembski 2005.
38 Schneider and Callender 2003. Amy Stear, from 9to5 pointed out that the savings could
be even higher than this since infant care tends to be more expensive than other types of
child care (Price 2003).
39 Eleson 2003; Pommer 2003a; Brien 2003-3/6/03; White 2003-3/11/03;
Ross 2003; Pommer 2003b.
40 Ross 2003.
41 Antlfinger 2004; Schultze 2004.
42 Cited in Milwaukee Women and Poverty Public Education Initiative 1998.
43 Simms 2005; Callender 2005; Marley and Walters 2007.
44 Wisconsin Council for Children and Families staff 2002.
45 Wisconsin Council for Developmental Disabilities 2002.
46 Wisconsin Council for Developmental Disabilities 2002.
47 Callender 1998a.
48 Norman 2000.
49 Community Advocates 2001.
50 Milfred 1998; Huston 1998.
51 Huston 1997; Huston 1998b.
52 Wisconsin State Journal 2000b.
53 This research was conducted by the office of a state representative from Milwaukee
54 Bleidorn 1998.
55 Price 2001a; 2001b.
56 Cited in Milwaukee Women and Poverty Public Education Initiative 1998.
57 Mapp 2000a.
58 McBride 1998.
59 Milfred 1999.
60 Huston 1998b; 1998d.
61 Huston 1998b.
62 Personal interview with Providers Taking Action leader by phone, July, 2007.
63 Wisconsin State Journal 1998; Interview, Ad Hoc W-2 Coalition.
64 Wisconsin State Journal or The Associated Press or Wisconsin State Journal-8-22-98)
65 Huston 1998e.
66 Callender 1998a.
67 Callender 1998a.
68 Schneider and Callender 1998.
69 Callender 1998b.
70 Urban Institute 2000
71 Milfred 1999; Wisconsin State Journal 2000a.
72 Abdul-Alim 2003
73 I need to double-check this date.
74 Syles 2002
75 Interview by telephone, Providers Taking Action leader, July 2007.
76 Chalfie, Blank, and Entmacher 2007: 19; Early Childhood Focus, “WI-Child care
77 Sensenbrenner 2006
79 Davidoff 2007a.
80 Associated Press 2007; Walters 2007.
81 Davidoff 2007b.
82 Cited in Capps 1997.
83 Center for Law and Social Policy and Center for Budget and Policy Priorities 2000.
84 Dalla Costa and James 1972 and James 1986 ). Socialist feminists argue that
women’s unpaid domestic labor is the main cause of women’s oppression and is essential
to the reproduction of capitalism. Based on their ideas, the International Wages for
Housework Campaign formed in 1972, claiming that wages for women’s unpaid
domestic work was crucial to both women’s liberation and the subversion of capital
(Malos 1977; Kawan and Weber 1981: 430).
85 Fieldnotes, 11/27/01.
86 Every Mother is a Working Mother 1998.
87 This campaign was organized by the People’s Network for a New Safety Net (Every
Mother is a Working Mother n.d.a).
88 This was a slogan used for a sign during the Global Women’s Strike (Los Angeles
89 Tadasco 2001: 2; Fieldnotes, 12/1/01.
90 Kabler 2001; see also Every Mother is a Working Mother 2001b.
91 Naples 1997.
92 Every Mother is a Working Mother n.d.b.
93 Reportedly, staff from WRC felt that ACORN was “taking over their territory”
especially when it attempted to distribute flyers at its Parents’ Convention. ACORN, on
the other hand, believed that there were more than enough child care providers for both
groups to organize, and initially focused on organizing license-exempt providers, which
were not WRC’s focus (Personal communication, ACORN staff, 9/1/00).
94 Welfare Reform Coalition 2000; Personal communication with WRC staff, 8/31/00.
95 Klabin 1999; Klabin and Weinstein 2000; Human Services Alliance 2001.
96 Fieldnotes, 8/31/00; ACORN-USA 2001.
97 Cited in Los Angeles ACORN 2000.
98 Fieldnotes, 5/18/00.
99 Fieldnotes, 10/15/01 and 3/17/01.
100 Fieldnotes, 4/5/02; Personal communication, 5/00.
101 Fieldnotes 3/17/01; Los Angeles ACORN 10/01.
102 ACORN-USA 2001.
103 Klabin 1999.
104 Every Mother is a Working Mother n.d.b
105 At first the county contracted with 10 agencies, but later with 12.
106 ACORN-LA 7/9/01.
107 Fieldnotes, 3/17/01, 1/31/02; 2/7/00; ACORN-LA 2001
108 California ACORN 5/29/01
109 Fieldnotes, June 2004
110 SEIU staff 2005.
111 SEIU staff 2006; SEIU staff 2007.
112 AFSCME staff 2006.
113 Personal communication with SEIU organizer, 2005
115 Graves 2005: 7.
116 Graves 2005: 5-6.
117 Marcucci 2001a.
118 Gordon 1997.
119 Barfield 1999.
120 Farwell 2000.
121 Coleman 1999.
122 Anderson 2001; Klabin 1999; Klabin and Weinstein 2000.
123 Klabin 1999; Klabin and Weinstein 2000.
124 Riccardi 1999; Rivera 2000; Daily News 1999; fieldnotes, 6/22/00
125 EMWM n.d.b
126 Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council staff member 2001.
127 Welfare Reform Coalition 2000.
128 Welfare Reform Coalition 2001
129 Welfare Reform Coalition staff 2000.
130 Wilson 1998.
131 Matlosz 2000.
132 Graves 2005: 6-8.
133 Marcucci 2001a.
134 Fieldnotes, 3/17/01
135 Marcucci 2001b.
136 Hill 2002a.
137 Marcucci 2002a.
138 Hill 2002a.
139 California Center for Research on Women and Families 2002.
140 Boudreau 2002.
141 Brown 2002a; Brown 2002b.
142 Personal communication with member of Child Development Policy Advisory
Committee, April 7, 2002.
143 Personal communication, ACORN organizer, 4/6/02.
144 De Sa Mercury 2002.
145 Hill 2002b.
146 Whitney 2003a; Whitney 2003b.
147 Hernandez 2003.
149 Whitney 2003b.
150 Marcucci 2004b.
151 Graves 2005: 11-12.
152 Monterey County Herald 2004.
153 Loera 2004.
154 Grippi 2004.
155 Sheehan 2004.
156 Marcucci 2004b.
157 Gladstone 2004; Marcucci 2004a.
158 Bluth 2004.
160 Nugent 2006.
161 Benson 2006.
162 Associated Press Online 2002.
163 Johnson 2002.
164 Nichols 2006.
165 Lowest-performing schools were those performing in the bottom 30% in terms of the
statewide Academic Performance Index (Geissinger 2006.
166 Miller 2006.
167 Whitebrook 2001.
168 Chalfie et al. 2007: 23.
169 This is revealed in the case studies above. Also see Brooks 2003, 2005.