Clock Running Out on Child Care for 55,000 California Children

Clock Running Out on Child Care for 55,000 California Children

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 As promised, Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), introduced an emergency bill to reinstate CalWorks Stage 3 funds for welfare-to- work child care subsidies through the rest of fiscal year ending June 30. The bill, AB 1, requests the restoration of $233 million in state funds, and was the first item of business to be taken up Monday by the new Legislature.

Perez and others are pinning their funding reinstatement hopes on incoming Democratic Governor Jerry Brown whose father (former Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown) worked on the early versions of the founding legislation for CalWorks. With the state facing upwards of a $25 billion deficit for the current fiscal year, and predictions from the Legislative Analyst’s Office that the deficit will continue to grow “into 2016” there are no historical or partisan guarantees.

Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his last acts as governor proposed Monday to close $9.9 billion of the state budget shortfall mostly through additional cuts in health and social programs like CalWorks.

Parents of 55,000 children in California will lose childcare support at the end of January if the state legislature does not reinstate the funds Schwarzenegger line-itemvetoed from the CalWorks program in October.

The program, stage 3, subsidizes low-income families who have successfully worked themselves off welfare and have not received state aid for at least two years.

Early this October, working families across the state were blindsided.

Parents were given nineteen days to change childcare. Children were abruptly pulled out of daycare and after school programs. At the start of November, an Alameda district judge granted temporary relief by ordering a reprieve.

The County Welfare Directors Association of California called Republican Schwarzenegger a “hypocrite”.

A spokeswoman for Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) likened the governor’s veto to an act of cruelty.

San Bernardino child provider Estella Johnson says years of budget cuts combined with constant threats and political manipulation has placed parents and their child care providers in a Catch 22: “They can’t work without child care, but if they can’t afford child care, they can’t work and we don’t get paid.”

Johnson a licensed provider for more than 20 years says CalWorks once a bridge out of poverty for thousands of welfare recipients has been decimated by Schwarzenegger’s insistence that the state budget be balanced on the backs of children.

“Throughout the entire span of his time in Sacramento, Schwarzenegger has seemed intent on both raiding child care funding and weakening the security of that funding,” said Johnson.

Child-care providers are confused, many aren’t being paid, and some have stopped providing care. This has left some parents scrambling for alternatives and perhaps losing their jobs or only working part-time.

Some parents are getting unemployment benefits or public assistance for the first time now because they cannot afford child care.

Meanwhile, Johnson will try to manage. Giving financial breaks to families like Estelle Nelson now forced to pay for child care out of pocket.

Nelson, a community resource worker for the San Bernardino School District laid off for more than a year was turned down for child care assistance when she returned to work recently.

“First they put me on a waiting list then they said I didn’t qualify because I had to be receiving cash aid. Then they put me on Stage Two for child care assistance. A short time later they sent me a letter informing me that my income was too high.”

The result says Nelson is “my husband and I are struggling to pay out of pocket.”

Johnson said parents, some of whom now work several jobs continue to bring their children to her home, meanwhile there’s plenty of confusion and frustration surrounding provider reimbursement.

“You end up getting paid at the state’s whim,” she said. “Child care is local small business -- it not only assists families to work, but payments to child care providers and centers feed the economy because we immediately turn around and use the income to pay mortgages, buy food and support other local services.”

Johnson refuses to turn away existing clients who can’t pay.

“Many of them are on the brink of returning to welfare,” she said.

Ending state support for child care would also end the much-heralded and generally successful, social contract that was part of the national and state commitment to restructuring welfare programs.

The 1996 federal welfare law and its 1997 California counterpart ended adults’ lifetime “entitlement” to cash assistance and required adults receiving assistance to work. In return, families received a commitment from policymakers ensuring they had access to job training and child care.

The governor’s action sets aside provisions to the state welfare-towork program made famous by Ronald Reagan. During his bid for Governor of California, in 1966 Reagan campaigned successfully on the theme, “send the welfare bums back to work.”

Johnson says the program’s uncertain future won’t change her passion for caring.

“By the grace of God, I’ve had a hand in caring for generations of children who’ve grown up to become productive citizens. Quality care helps ensure that children will be ready for success in school.”

“How can we expect positive outcomes from our students if we eliminate the foundation of education?” she said. “As much as I would like to provide services for free or at reduced cost, I don’t have the resources. It’s very frustrating.”

Area First 5 agencies have approved millions to provide transitional funding to ensure ongoing access to child care for children through age 5. The funds if needed will grant up to three months of services to qualified families.

Whether the governor’s actions on the budget are indeed cruel and hypocritical will likely be debated in the annals of history.

Schwarzenegger leaves office Jan. 3 after a tumultuous tenure marred by the state’s fiscal mess and fights with Republicans who decried tax increases and with Democrats who resisted his spending cuts.