30 November 2010

Act Now: Call on Congress to Preserve Child Care for Hundreds of Thousands

Back to work after Thanksgiving, Congress is about to make a number of crucial votes that will affect the economic security and well-being of women and families: chief among them the renewal of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and Head Start. CCDBG provides federal funding for state-administered child care subsidies and initiatives that improve the quality and accessibility of child care for low-income families, while Head Start provides early education opportunities to pre-schoolers.

Congress has until Friday, December 3 to re-approve these programs. But renewing at current funding levels is simply not enough. Economic stimulus funds that bolstered support for child care and Head Start are about to run out. If Congress doesn’t carry over this additional funding, over 300,000 children would be affected, dealing a devastating blow to families already struggling to survive the ongoing economic crisis.

In 2009, when Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the stimulus bill, it provided critical emergency assistance to states for child care and early education programs to aid low-income families. According to Ms. Foundation grantee, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), ARRA funds were used [pdf] not only to continue assistance at pre-recession levels, but to cover more families and better enable providers to improve the quality of care.

Soon, however, ARRA funds will disappear and hundreds of thousands of low-income families could be left high and dry if Congress doesn't act. Families of color will be hardest hit: In 2008, 63 percent of child care subsidies went to African Americans and Latinos.

“Without additional funding from the national level, here in Pennsylvania, we will have over one thousand children’s slots at risk,” says Janet Filante, executive director of Childspace CDI, a Ms. Foundation grantee working to build the power of child care workers and families. “These are families that are working currently or completing training programs. These are businesses that rely on child care subsidies for the majority of their revenue because they serve low-income families.”

States have already had to cut back. According to NWLC Director of Leadership and Public Policy Helen Blank, “In October Washington state lowered its income eligibility limit for child care assistance from 200 percent to 175 percent of the federal poverty level, and plans to reduce the income limit further, to 150 percent of poverty, as of January 1. Since February 2009, Arizona has cut the number of children receiving child care assistance from 48,000 to 30,000.” “Where,” she asks, “are those children and are their parents still able to work?”

[Earlier this month in California, where there is already a waiting list 200,000-children long, Ms. Foundation grantee Parent Voices helped delay cuts and secure a promise from incoming Governor Jerry Brown to preserve funding.]

The Ms. Foundation and our grantees have long made the case that affordable, quality child care is critical to women and families’ economic security. When families have access to affordable, quality child care, parents are better able to find and maintain jobs, advance their education and training, and support their families. This is especially true during tough economic times, when the burden of child care costs increase. In good times and bad, the average cost [pdf] of full-time care ranges from $3,400 to an unbelievable $15,900 a year.

These programs also help spur local, and thus national, economic growth [pdf]. “An investment in early education jobs stays in the community and has a ripple effect in those communities. It’s very efficient and effective economic stimulus,” adds Janet Filante. Child care workers, over 94 percent women and over 32 percent women of color, are among the lowest-paid in the nation. Improving and growing the professional child care field is a win-win for workers and families.

Above all, of course, access to affordable, quality child care is good – and necessary – for children themselves.

So take action today! Demand that Congress protect access to child care and Head Start for the 300,000 children nationwide who will be denied support once stimulus funds runs out. Don’t let families on the brink of crisis face even greater economic uncertainty and collapse.

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