In the nearly one billion dollars in budget cuts Governor Jerry Brown put into place on Tuesday were $23 million to child care financing. That's on top of a $110 million reduction in child care from 2010 to 2011. What all these cuts mean is more low income children losing access to child care, making it more difficult for their parents to continue working.
If you're wondering what a child care story is doing on a health blog, consider this perspective, provided by the Child Care Resource Center in Los Angeles. After earlier budget cuts, CCRC surveyed its clients. Carissa, a northern Los Angeles County woman who lost her child care subsidy told CCRC she had no choice but to leave her two younger children with her teenage daughter, who quickly become overwhelmed.
"It's very sad when you have a 15-year-old saying 'I can't take it anymore.' Mentally and emotionally, it was too much for her. She had to take care of the children and then be on top of them to do their homework. The two youngest went from being in the honor roll to almost failing."
The $23 million in cuts means 7,500 California children will lose their child care slots. The irony is that subsidizing child care came out of the 1996 federal welfare reform act. A major reform goal was to get people off welfare and back to work. But in order for mothers to work, they need child care.
One northern California woman I spoke to yesterday preferred to remain anonymous, but said she began receiving government assistance in 2006 when her husband died. She was pregnant and had a toddler. She qualified for a child care subsidy, but earlier this year, it was pulled. After a scramble, she qualified for a different program, but in this round of budget cuts, her subsidy is in jeopardy.
"Without the child care, I could not have gone back to school. I was sending them to a child care center. Their hours were 6am-6pm. ... We've been struggling. My children get Social Security benefits, but it's not a lot. ... I've got two years to get the BA to have a good life. I'm so close to being self-sufficient, but I'm consistently stopped. It's just messed up, the whole thing."
In addition to school, this woman also works. But what she wants, she told me, is to get her BA so that she will be able to secure higher paid work and get off all aid. Right now, she doesn't know how she will be able to get through these last two years of college if her child care subsidy ends. Child care is expensive everywhere, but according to a study released yesterday, the statewide annual average ranges from $6,500 for pre-schoolers to $11,000 for infants. In the Bay Area, those numbers are often much higher.
The stories are similar all over California. Arlyce Currie is the Executive Director of Bananas, a child care resource and referral agency in Oakland. "We were serving over 1,000 children in 2009 and then everything started crumbling. And it's just so ironic because the problem is we need to put people to work and if they have children, they have to have child care. It's appalling to me that people don't put those two things together."
In Los Angeles Michael Olenick, who heads the Child Care Resource Center, pointed out that in addition to subsidies being lost, child care providers are also going out of business. This further reduces the limited supply of child care slots available, a double whammy of providers losing jobs and the parents of children they care for being unable to continue working.
"The number of stories out there, it's just horrendous," Olenick said. "These are people who were contributing to the economy and now they're not."