Child Care Cuts Force Families to Waiting Lists

October 15, 2010 | Sacramento Bee |  Link to article

As soon as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used his veto power last week to slash all $256 million in funding for a child care program she uses, Daniella Scally asked for a day off work to go door to door looking for other options.

All the panicked Sacramento mother of three could do was add her children's names to waiting lists.

As of Nov. 1, Scally and 30,000 other families and 55,000 children face an immediate crisis. They will lose all subsidies that help them pay for their children's child care needs under a special program known as CalWORKs Stage 3 Child Care.

Schwarzenegger vetoed the child care money and more than $700 million from other programs from the newly passed state budget in order to build the state's reserve fund.

The Stage 3 program was designed to support parents who have graduated from California's welfare-to-work program, CalWORKs, and have been completely off all cash aid for two years and gainfully employed.

Scally said she gets no cash aid now, no food stamps, no Medi-Cal.

The only help she gets, she said, is Stage 3 child care aid.

Her nightmare, she said, is she'll end up being forced to quit the $38,000-a-year job at a landscape company she has fought to keep through the recession.

Scally takes home about $2,400 a month after taxes, she said. She pays $250 a month in child care. If she now has to suddenly take on the entire $1,800 a month her child care actually costs, she said, she, her 12-year-old son and twin toddlers would be left with $500 a month to live on.

That would likely leave the single mother no choice but to fall back on welfare, she said.

It would reverse years of work, she said, to learn new skills and overcome low self-esteem that held her back after her family "disowned" her for becoming pregnant at 17.

"I think I'm a success story," Scally, now 30, said. "I've done everything the state asked me to do. If I am forced back on welfare, what kind of a message does that send to my children?"

Danielle Ewen, director of child care and early education policy at the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, D.C., said most states have some form of "transitional" subsidized child care for former welfare recipients.

Eligibility rules vary from state to state, but the federal government, which offers block grants to states, says that state can cover children until they are 13 years old.

In California, Ewen said, a family of three with a child, whether formerly on welfare or not, can qualify for a child care subsidy if the family's annual income is $45,000 or less.

In Alabama, the annual income limit is $23,000. In Wyoming, it's $48,000.

H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state Department of Finance, acknowledged that the governor's veto of Stage 3 child care funding presents a dilemma for poor families. But he said other publicly subsidized child-care options are available.

That suggestion is "delusional," said Patty Siegel, executive director of California's Child Care Resource & Referral Network.

California already has a backlog of more than 194,000 requests for subsidized child care.

State funding for a program for "latchkey kids" in California was slashed last year, Siegel added, leaving fewer places to place children.

And slots in an after-school program that the governor championed through a ballot initiative are also likely booked, Siegel said, leaving no room for the Stage 3 children.

Thousands of child care providers are also expected to lose work as these subsidies end, and will have to lay off employees.

"Our CalWORKs program has worked," Siegel said. "Those families ... got jobs and they've kept those jobs. But when you pull child care out from under them, the whole thing is quicksand."

Siegel said the average annual income for a Stage 3 working parent is about $24,000.

To qualify for the now-gutted program, parents may earn no more than 75 percent of the state median income for a family of their size, and children cannot be older than 13.

The CalWORKs Stage 3 subsidies are administered by the Department of Education, which has instructed child-care referral networks statewide to send out notices immediately notifying child care providers of the cut.

The impact won't stop with the children currently in the program.

Between 1,200 and 1,500 children become eligible for Stage 3 subsidies every month as their parents "time out" of CalWORKs' Stage 2 child care.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said that by cutting money for Stage 3 working parents, Schwarzenegger could end up increasing welfare rolls and driving up unemployment.

He has vowed to try to restore the funding in January when the new governor and a new Legislature are in office.

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