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Clarissa Doutherd, Stage 3 parent, speaks at Tuesday's news conference as Senator Ellen Corbett, Senator Loni Hancock and State Schools Chief Jack O'Connell (l-r) listen in the background.

Low income families scramble as childcare funding ends

on October 27, 2010

Two dozen toddlers played on a jungle gym outside an Oakland childcare center late Tuesday morning as State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell led a press conference inside, decrying the failure of his efforts to save childcare funding for low-income families.

“We are all here to express our major disappointment at the governor’s veto of more than $256 million to the Stage 3 childhood program in this state,” O’Connell told politicians, parents and childcare advocates at the Bright Future Early Learning Center in the Elihu Harris State Building downtown. “Real people, real children, real families are being harmed by this short-sighted and misguided veto.”

Through California Work Opportunity and Responsibility for Kids (CalWORKS), a state-funded program providing temporary financial help to needy families, eligible parents are offered free and low-cost childcare services in three stages. Stages 2 and 3 are transition stages of the program, offering subsidized childcare to families no longer receiving aid under CalWORKS.

Since Stage 3 was created in 1997, families in this final stage have been eligible to receive childcare assistance as long as they remain below 75 percent of the state median income, and their children are under 13 years of age. According to data compiled by the California’s Department of Education, more than 56,000 children received Stage 3 help in 2008.

“For Alameda County, 1,759 children next week will no longer have subsidized childcare services,” said O’Connell who added that, in Oakland alone, 1,005 children will be impacted by the cut. The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, a non-profit research organization, did a study in 2009 that revealed the average family in California can pay upwards of $11,000 each year for childcare. “These parents really are being forced to choose between their job and the responsibility of taking care of their own children.”

As he spoke, O’Connell stood next to handwritten posters that read, “Save Stage 3,” and “I Have the Right to Appeal.”

Officials at the Community Child Care Council of Alameda County (4Cs), a childcare resource center that runs Bright Future, estimate that roughly 20 percent of the 48 children served at Bright Future receive some type of state assistance. “We are receiving calls from parents who are at risk of being in jeopardy for losing their jobs when faced with the decision of whether or not to pay rent, to buy food or to pay for childcare,” said Renee Herzfeld, executive director of 4C.

With passage of the state budget in early October, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed funding for Stage 3 childcare and, instead, opted to funnel that money into the state’s reserve funding. “In May, when the governor submitted his budget to the legislature, it had a reserve of about $1.2 million,” said H.D. Palmer, a Sacramento-based spokesperson for the state’s department of finance, who added that this figure was exceptionally low. “Each of these line-item vetoes involved tradeoffs and tough choices. Certainly, this particular veto will cause significant challenges for many.” The Stage 3 funding reduction will become effective November 1.

Stage 3 supporters say Schwarzenegger’s decision will do more harm than good for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens. “The money for this program helps working families provide childcare that’s safe and gets kids ready for school,” said Maria Lopez, a spokesperson for the California Department of Education, who added that the recent veto of funding “puts in jeopardy the parent’s comfortableness in leaving their children, so they can work and it also effects a lot of providers in the area who might be having to close their doors or lay off employees.”

At the press conference Tuesday, O’Connell was joined at the podium by several supporters of Stage 3 funding, including legislators, an owner of a childcare center, and a current Stage 3 participant.

“The decision to cut Stage 3 childcare means there is a strong possibility that I may have to quit my job and go back to receiving aid, because I can’t afford the full cost of my son’s preschool education“ said Clarissa Doutherd, a staff accountant at Youth Radio, a nonprofit organization located near the childcare center where the conference was being held.

As attendees at the press conference listened, Doutherd recounted her own success story on CalWORKS. In 2007, she said, she quit her job as a bookkeeper when she became too pregnant to work. Unable to support her infant son on food stamps and temporary assistance for needy families alone, Doutherd said, she signed up for CalWORKS.  Because the program let her afford childcare, she said, she was able to attend community college and landed her current job.

Through support from CalWORKS, Doutherd was able to send her son to his first childcare center at no cost. “As my pay increased, so did the amount I was able to pay towards my son’s childcare,” she said. As a Stage 3 parent, Doutherd is now able to cover roughly 25 percent of her son’s tuition. “I am certain that if I were given the chance to remain on this path, I would soon be able to afford to cover my son’s childcare costs without aid.”

But come November 1, Doutherd and many local Stage 3 parent may need to seek out other options.

O’Connell promised that many in Sacramento are exploring options to correct this problem. “Numerous members of the California state legislature are currently working on trying to find both short term and long term solutions to this real problem,” he said. But when asked for elaboration, he added that he could not yet provide additional information.

Ultimately, if supporters of Stage 3 funding are not successful in reversing Schwarzenegger’s funding decision, it will mean a world of changes for parents like Doutherd.

The governor’s decision is absolutely devastating,” Doutherd said.  We have all waited in line, filled out paperwork, met with caseworkers, found jobs and decided to go back to school. We have balanced work and home life with very few resources and no safety net and struggled to make ends meet only to find ourselves left out in the cold just when our goals and dreams are within reach.”

Image: Clarissa Doutherd, Stage 3 parent, speaks at Tuesday’s news conference as Senator Ellen Corbett, Senator Loni Hancock and State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell (l-r) listen in the background.

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