Childcare subsidies for working low-income families get cut in series of line-item vetoes by Schwarzenegger
At a rally on the steps of the State Capitol Thursday, Nov. 4, Anna Martinez, a single mother of four from Clovis, Calif., asked the question that had inspired the event: “If I lose Stage 3 subsidies, I’ll have to quit my job and re-apply for cash aid,” she said. “I can’t afford day care on my own and I like my job. I work hard. What good does it do anybody for me to quit my job?”
Despite the intense political wrangling that finally produced this year’s state budget agreement 100 days late, there was bi-partisan agreement that subsidizing childcare for parents who had graduated off welfare and were now working was money well spent and should not be cut.
But outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger thought otherwise. He used his “blue pencil” to line-item veto funding, eliminating the CalWORKS Stage 3 program to reallocate $256 million of the program’s funding to the “rainy day” reserve fund, which he considered under funded.
This last-minute funding cut would have stopped payments to childcare providers serving the children of former welfare recipients on Nov. 1. More than 55,000 low-income, working parents across the state would have faced the hard choice of quitting their jobs and re-applying for welfare so they could care for their children, or finding some other way their children could be cared for while they were at work. This was especially agonizing for parents with special needs children, such as children with autism and disabilities.
This was the case for Edelmira Castaneda, a single mother of a 1-year-old child with Down syndrome in Watsonville. “My child requires additional assistance since he eats from a feeding tube, and is developmentally delayed,” she says. “The loss of Stage 3 childcare would force me to quit my job and go back to cash aid to be able to care for him.”
In crises mode, Assemblymember Bill Monning (D-Monterey) pleaded for help with the directors of First 5 Commissions in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Santa Clara counties for short-term, stopgap loans to back-fill the governor’s budget cut, bridging the gap at least until Jan. 1.
“We worked quickly to shore up this crucial support for working families,” says Monning. “These are people who just got off welfare. Now they will be able to get through the holidays knowing that care for their children is in place so they can continue to earn a living, and that their children are safe.”
Susan True, director of First 5 of Santa Cruz County, said the short-term loan of about $200,000 was critical to keeping working families afloat.
“We were pleased to help parents earn while their children learn … Continuity for the children with a long term care provider is a critical factor in the child’s ability to learn,” says True, adding that this does mean the crisis is not over. “This was a stopgap loan. If the new state government does not re-instate funding, the program will be eliminated.”
First 5 Commissions collect and distribute revenues from a $.50 state tax on cigarettes—revenue that is mandated to fund a comprehensive array of education programs, health services, day care, and other services for children age 5 and younger.
“We’ve were scrambling all last month after the governor’s funding cut,” says Elaine Henning, executive director of the Santa Cruz County Parents Association, which administers the CalWORKS Stage 3 program that pays the subsidies directly to licensed childcare centers and home care providers on behalf of the welfare-to-work graduates. “But thanks to Assemblymember Monning, First 5, and the families facing the loss of subsidies who have all gotten mobilized, I’m starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Henning says the cuts directly affect 142 families in Santa Cruz County, with a total of 261 children, and reduces the revenues received by more than 100 childcare providers.
In a letter to local First 5 commissioners dated Oct. 25, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg and Speaker of the Assembly John Perez promised to introduce a bill on Dec. 6, the first day of the new legislative season, that would essentially override the governor’s veto and restore $250 million of funding for the Stage 3 program and reimburse the First 5 commissions for the emergency loans and reinstate Stage 3 funding for next year.