14 December 2010

Child Care Subsidies, Early Education Still at Risk -- Congress Must Act Now

Child care is not an abstract issue. Every day, millions of families in the US rely on -- and pay for -- others to care for their children so that they can hold down jobs, pay the rent and put food on the table. For many low-income families, child care programs that are subsidized by federal and state funding, along with programs like Head Start and Early Head Start, provide the only means by which to access care -- and, consequently, to hold down a job. For them, these are the programs that make work, and any modicum of economic justice, possible. 

But across the country, these programs are in danger. Before the members of 111th Congress depart for their final holiday break, they must decide whether to continue funding subsidized child care services and early childhood education programs, or as Ms. Foundation grantee the National Women's Law Center has put it, leave hundreds of thousands of children "out in the cold."

Here's the situation: When Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2009, it provided states $2 billion in emergency funding for child care (through the Child Care and Development Block Grant) and another $2.1 billion in funding for Head Start and Early Head Start. But as we noted in a recent post, those funds are now running out. Unless Congress takes action, the children of low-income families are going to find themselves shut out of the programs that help keep this economy moving by helping their parents remain employed.

The good news is that last week, the House Appropriations Committee agreed to extend government funding at its current levels for another full year, and proposed a $374 million increase for child care funding and a $300 million increase for Head Start as part of their resolution. The bad news is that both of those figures still fall well short of ARRA funding levels, and, unless some kind of adjustment is made, will leave more than 300,000 children without access to safe, affordable childcare. As we've noted before, these cuts will likely have a disproportionate impact on communities of color: 63 percent of children who received child care subsidies in 2008 were Black or Latino -- which means these communities will be particularly affected by any cutbacks that take place.

It's a potentially disastrous situation -- but there's no need to take our word for how important subsidized child care is to low-income families, or how devastating its loss would be. Just listen to what the families themselves have to say: In California -- where there's already a pitched battle to reinstate child care subsidizes that the Governor slashed in order to balance the budget -- Ms. Foundation grantee Parent Voices has collected testimonials from those affected by these cuts as a reminder to elected officials that real families, and real children, stand to lose out if funding is cut. Read their words -- and then urge Congress to keep child care and early education available for the children who need it most.
In just a few weeks I have to make one of the toughest decisions in my life. Without day care, do I quit my job, stop paying rent, or have my car repossessed? I have considered all options, none of them make sense to me. They all have the same outcome; no child care assistance = no job, no house, no car and – bottom line – no independence! The government that introduced me to the work force is the same government that is forcing me out! What kind of message would that send to my daughter? -- Raquel White
When the Governor cut child care he eliminated both my peace of mind, my children’s safety, and my job security.  I was able to go back to school, earn my degree, and get a good job giving me a sense of pride and self worth. I was no longer struggling to pay bills and worrying if food would run out before the end of the month.  I have been able to become a role model for my four children. Without child care assistance, I will not be able to keep working and my children will be pulled from a child care center they love so much...Please do not make my children see that hard work and sacrifice does not pay off in the long run. -- Flor Ortiz
For more information about the fight to save child care subsidies in California, visit Parent Voices. And don't forget to demand that Congress save federal funding for child care now.

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