Among the devastating cuts Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed in his latest California budget message is an end to state-funded child care assistance. If that measure were to survive the coming budget negotiations, it would save the state general fund nearly $1.2 billion in the coming fiscal year - and wreak havoc on the families of at least 142,000 children across the state.
The governor's proposal, and other human services cuts including completely eliminating the CalWORKS state welfare-to-work program, drew immediate fire from legislative Democrats as well as families receiving help. The current proposals come on top of years of cuts to California's human needs programs.
The state's non-partisan legislative analyst, Mac Taylor, called welfare and child care "core pieces of the state's safety net," and urged the legislature to reject the proposals.
Angelina Padilla, a single mother of four, receives help with child care for her two youngest through the Oakland-based non-profit agency BANANAS. Padilla, who works for a pharmacy, said in a telephone interview that if she had to pay the full cost, "I would not be able to work, basically. There would be no point. It's like a Catch-22," she said. "If I stayed home I'd have to go on welfare. But if that's going to be cut, I and my children will be nowhere."
Padilla said for a time last year she had to pick up her now-7-year-old son from school and take him to work with her because she couldn't find care for his age group in her area.
"It catches up to people," she said. "You get to a point where you think, oh, my goodness, what do I do now? There've been times I've just cried if they've made cuts. It seems like there's no hope sometimes."
Mary Ignatius, statewide organizer for Parent Voices, a parent-led organization fighting to make quality child care affordable and accessible to all families, said the threatened cutoff of aid "puts that family's stability in total flux" as they try to figure out how to pay enormously higher costs or to find alternative care through family and friends.
While child care cuts hit low-income women of color hardest, Ignatius said, the impact is felt across all communities, and by caregivers, vendors and suppliers as well. Observers have also noted that cutting child care and other programs could cost more in federal matching funds than the cuts would save.
Low-income Californians are far from alone in fearing child care cuts. The New York Times reported earlier this week that at least nine other states have slashed their child care aid. Some have made programs less accessible or have lowered the amounts they pay, while others are putting applicants on waiting lists or lowering eligibility thresholds.
Democrats in California's legislature are fighting back. The Assembly Democrats' program includes maintaining child care programs "to ensure working parents can stay employed and over 50,000 small business child care providers can say in business." In the state Senate, Democrats propose to raise nearly $5 billion in new revenue as they try to protect social programs from further cuts.
"What we need in California is a real discussion of revenue," Ignatius said. She pointed to a series of tax breaks for the state's largest corporations, agreed by legislative leaders and the governor in closed-door meetings during last year's budget negotiations. "Those tax breaks would pay for the entire CalWORKS and child care programs in California," she said.
But, she added, though Democrats control the legislature, they lack the two-thirds majority California requires to pass a budget or to raise taxes. "So that's part of our long-term discussion also, what it's going to take to make changes to that."
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW