Weaknesses in the social safety net for contract workers.
Child Care Advocates Push for Restoration of Subsidy Money
Child care advocates are asking Governor Jan Brewer to restore almost 14 million dollars that were cut this year from child care subsidies…used by low income parents. The current state budget eliminates all general fund support for the program. That means in Arizona, many applicants can no longer get them. From Phoenix, KJZZ’s Mark Brodie reports.
In the shadow of downtown Phoenix, kids ride plastic cars around the playground of Phoenix Day, a preschool less than a mile south of U-S Airways Center. Three of those kids belong to 24-year old Mario Gracia
"When I had my 1st kid, I told my lady, I go, I want them to go there, it’s a good preschool…always has been, when I came here, it was decent."
Gracia was recently laid off from his job with a furniture maker. He and his wife pay 36 dollars a week to send their three kids to Phoenix Day…the rest of the cost is subsidized by the state Department of Economic Security. Officials at Phoenix Day say 80 percent of their kids get financial assistance…and that enrollment is dropping. And, they’re not alone.
"The schools that are in neighborhoods that are very blue collar, that have more people who would qualify for DES…those schools have been very dramatically affected…their viability is definitely in question."
Bob Orsi is a co-owner of Sunrise Preschools…which has 28 schools around the Valley. But, he used to have 29…and could be closing more. He predicts that if the current trend continues, there will eventually be few to no preschools in low income areas of the state….which puts parents in a tough spot.
"It’s a matter of can I keep my job, how can I keep my job, or do I have to give up working and go on welfare, which has also been reduced."
The Arizona Child Care Association says the number of kids served by the DES subsidy has been cut in half since 2009…that’s a reduction of more than 24-thousand children. Bruce Liggett is the group’s Executive Director.
"There’s been damage done to private child care, to small businesses, and to our economy because of these cuts in child care…it’s not just at the individual level…child care centers have closed in AZ that were supporting employers and their workers way beyond low income families."
One of those centers belonged to Dale Fisher and his wife. They took over the Sycamore School in Mesa in 1996…and closed it last year. He blames much of that on cuts to the child care subsidy program.
"We could see by the end of 2009 that unless things improved, we weren’t going to make it…by the fall of 2010, we were back down to 60 children, which we were 15 years earlier, and just couldn’t pay the bills."
"We didn’t have money to continue fighting with money for education, K-12, higher education, community colleges, prisons..."
State Senator Linda Gray chairs the public safety and human services committee. The Glendale Republican says every area of the budget has seen cuts.
"… you have to look at the whole pie…therefore that was one of the reasons why part of this was cut, it was part of the pie that was cut."
Arizona gets money from the federal government for child care subsidies. But to get the maximum $115 million, the state has to put up $30 million of its own. And, since lawmakers and the governor zeroed that out….to keep the federal cash coming in, Gray says they turned to a voter approved agency focusing on early childhood development and education.
"First Things First had far more money in that area than what the legislature had…so that was why we cut some of the funding for child care in hopes that first things first would pick it up."
"If the sentiment is that we also become the social safety net, that’s not part of our core mission…that’s not what we were established to do."
Rhian Allvin is the CEO of First Things First. Part of its responsibility is to provide child care scholarships. That money is currently being used to collect the federal cash…but Allvin says First Things First’s revenue is declining…and needs to use it, to, among other things, prepare kids for kindergarten.
"First Things First’s mission is to make sure kids are ready for that, not to pick up all of the things the state is unwilling to fund anymore."
And, if the agency has less money for its scholarships, that could mean the state would collect less money from the feds. That’s part of the reason advocates are asking the governor to re-instate the almost $14 million that were cut this year. Phoenix Day’s Executive Director, Karyn Parker predicts problems if that doesn’t happen.
"Unless there is a restoring of child care subsidies, we’re going to see some dramatic changes in the state’s economy because people are not able to work."
That sentiment is echoed by parent Mario Gracia. He says he tries not to think about what would happen if his family lost its subsidy.
"A lot of people, they need DES for their kids to come to day care, so they can either go to school or go to work…if not, what are they gonna to do? How are they gonna make any income?"
The Arizona Child Care Association says cuts to the subsidy program have cost the state 3000 teaching jobs. And advocates worry about the future of education…and the economy in Arizona…if that money is not restored.