Contra Costa Times, “Parents anguish over child care cuts” [10/19/2010]
“Parents anguish over child care cuts”
Rick Radin, Contra Costa Times [10/19/2010]
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s elimination of a child care subsidy, benefiting 8,000 children in the Bay Area and more than 57,000 statewide, has parents and providers upset and worried.
The loss of the subsidy will cost low-income parents hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars a month, depending on how many children they have who were covered by the subsidy.
The program, known as CalWORKs Stage 3, gives continuing child care subsidies to parents who have been out of the CalWORKs welfare-to-work program for job training and education for at least two years.
California will end Stage 3 payments Nov. 1, but child care providers haven’t been paid since July 1 because of the delay in settling the state budget. The state has promised that it will make up the back payments.
Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, announced a proposal this week that would go around the governor and restore funding until a new chief executive takes office in January.
Schwarzenegger killed the program in one of several line-item vetoes after completing a budget deal with the Legislature earlier this month. Eliminating the child care subsidy is intended to save the state about $256 million a year.
About 1,700 children in Contra Costa County and 2,200 in Alameda County will lose their subsidies, according to the Contra Costa Childcare Council, the county’s largest child care network.
Elimination of the program will leave parents who rely on help to stay in the work force with few, if any, options, said council Director Kate Ertz-Berger.
It also may cause children to be yanked from providers with whom they are prospering to face an unknown future with lower-cost providers or even less-stable arrangements, Ertz-Berger said.
Alternatively, some parents may choose to quit their jobs to stay home with their children and apply for county welfare, she said.
“The bottom line is families will be devastated,” Ertz-Berger said. “Children will lose the ability to prepare for school.”
Elimination of the program was part of $962 million in cuts the governor made to restore a state “rainy day” fund to a $1.3 billion balance, said H.D. Palmer, deputy director of the state Department of Finance.
About $1.7 billion in other categories of child care subsidies are still available, Palmer said.
“The reserve (fund) was unacceptably low,” he said. “Not to single out child care, but the reserve was not sufficient.”
A two-thirds vote by the Legislature would be needed to restore the cuts, Palmer said.
State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said that legislators are seeking federal funding and help from First 5 California, the agency that funds preschool and other children’s services with tobacco tax money, to bridge the gap until next year.
Pérez wants to extend the subsidy until Jan. 1 by asking First 5 to pick up the bulk of the estimated $60 million cost. A spokesman from First 5 said the proposal will be presented to and voted on by the commission today.
Pérez said he will contribute $6 million from the Assembly’s operating budget — a highly unusual move.
Kamilla Wade, of Antioch, has 6- and 9-year-old daughters in the program and a newborn son who has just been enrolled.
She works as a recruiter and fundraiser with the Boy Scouts of America during the day and attends college in the evening to train for a career as a human services worker in government or health care.
Wade says she has no resources to fall back on if she does not receive help with the $2,400 monthly child care bill.
“I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do if this program ends,” she said. “The fact that we were given only two weeks’ notice hasn’t helped, either.”
Oakland accountant Clarissa Doutherd doesn’t think she will be able to come up with the $573 a month she receives toward the $900 cost of child care for her son, Xavier Cusic, while she’s at work.
She said she’s very happy with how 3-year-old Xavier is doing with her current provider, but she may be forced to find a less expensive one if she loses her subsidy.
“His current preschool is a supportive, loving environment, and leaving it will impact his ability to learn and develop,” Doutherd said. “Moving to a different day care would be completely unfair to him.”
Many providers also are facing financial crises.
Kathy Colleto, director of the Antioch branch of the five-campus Child Day School, said 20 of her families are receiving Stage 3 subsidies, amounting to 12 percent of her business.
Her school has lost $11,000 to $12,000 a month in income from the subsidies during the state budget standoff, and she estimates that she will have to lay off two of her 13 employees.
“This affects the families and my teachers because I’m not going to have a job for them,” Colleto said. “For parents, it’s coming down to a choice between their child and their job.”
Linda Francois, another Antioch provider, said she will lose 12 of her 17 children if the subsidy is not restored and will have to lay off her one employee.
Francois said she is especially concerned about losing one girl who is autistic.
“Her mother is a single mother who went from welfare to school to getting her degree, and now that she’s working, they’re throwing this wrench at her,” she said.
Francois said she has been waiting for payment from the state for more than three months.
“I’ve been fighting with creditors, some of whom are no problem and some of whom are a problem,” she said.
Staff writer Katy Murphy and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this story. Contact Rick Radin at 925-779-7166.