10 November 2010

CA Judge Extends Child Care Subsidies; Mothers, Workers and Advocates Deliver Strong Message to Gov. Elect

Great news for Ms. Foundation grantee Parent Voices, a group that is part of a critical campaign to save child care in California: On Friday, California Superior Court Judge Wynne Carvill ordered a temporary extension of child care subsidies to low-income workers in the state -- subsidies that had previously been eliminated by cuts to the budget made by outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

That's excellent news for the more than 54,000 families experts now say would be affected by these cuts -- at least for the moment. The program in question, CalWORKS Stage 3, provided individuals who had completed the state's welfare-to-work program with much needed help in paying for child care so that they could remain in the workforce; the loss of those subsidies would mean that thousands of parents could no longer afford to work -- the cost of child care becoming prohibitively expensive without help from the government.

When the cuts were announced, the folks at Parent Voices took action. Their Oakland chapter joined as plaintiffs in a lawsuit to reinstate the more than $256 million of lost funds, launched a campaign to fight back against the cuts, and participated in a well-publicized protest outside of last month's Women's Conference in Long Beach (the conference is the brainchild of Maria Shriver, Governor Schwarzenegger's wife).

Then, last week, they took their fight directly to the Capitol, where, as part of the child care advocacy community, they planned to deliver more than 5,000 signatures from mothers and child care workers affected by the cuts into the Governor's hands. Locked out of the Governor's press conference due to lack of credentials, these 20 women and their children decided to wait outside on the Capitol steps on the chance that they might be able to share a few words with exiting media after the press conference was over. According to Mary Ignatius, statewide organizer for Parent Voices, here's what happened instead:
After 5 minutes of waiting, lo and behold, Governor-elect Jerry Brown [walked] past us. The mothers began clapping and cheering and I handed him an envelope of 5,000+ signatures of working mothers and child care providers who were at risk of losing their jobs. Before taking the package he asked “Don’t you want to give this to Schwarzenneger?” and I replied, “No because you are the one who can do something about this!” He took the package and we followed him chanting “Child Care keeps California Working!”

Our leaders were so thrilled. Most took the day off of work to be in the Capitol believing that sacrifice would be worth it. We didn’t know how the day was going to turn out, but because these mothers determined they just couldn’t sit back and watch their livelihoods be ripped from them, they were able to get their message out to the Governor-elect on his first day in the Capitol.
What a terrific, unexpected outcome -- and just one more example of how Parent Voices and their organizing partners are standing strong to ensure that the voices of low-income women will not be ignored.

It still remains to be seen, of course, whether the state will permanently restore the funds that support these essential child care subsidies, but there may be reason to be optimistic: At a local campaign event before the election, the now Governor-elect vowed to restore funding for the measure when pressed on the issue by a Parent Voices leader. Here's hoping that's a campaign promise he's willing to keep.

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