Moderate House Republicans are beating back a proposal from East Valley legislative leaders to cut the state child care subsidy program and leave more than 16,000 children of the working poor without care.
The plan would reduce the amount parents could earn and still qualify for help paying for child care, institute a sliding scale to gradually reduce the subsidy until it is eliminated in two years, and put a five-year family limit on the program.
Already, 6,700 children who qualify for the program are on a waiting list. Child care centers have closed, parents have quit work and children have been left home alone or with older siblings while their parents work.
"The average participant is a young, single mom with two young kids who is struggling to have a job and make a good life for herself and her children," said Rep. Deb Gullett, R-Phoenix. whose district include part of Scottsdale."It just doesn’t seem to me, in the world of budget cuts, like that’s the population we should be going after."
Gullett said she could support proposals to limit to six the number of children covered and to require a co-pay for all children, not just the first three.
At a legislative hearing earlier this week, a regional manager for Childtime Learning Centers in the East Valley said the company was forced to close two centers with high subsidized enrollment. Debra White said fewer than 20 percent of the centers now take state subsidized children, compared with 60 percent two years ago, and employees have been laid off since lawmakers capped the program in March 2003.
Families who are on welfare or who have open Child Protective Services cases are given priority for child care subsidy, and some families who earn below the poverty level have been allowed into the program in recent months.
At $134 million, the House plan represents a $3.3 million cut to the current budget and $27.5 million less than what Gov. Janet Napolitano and the Senate have proposed, which would still fall about $18 million short of eliminating the entire waiting list.
The program, administered by the state Department of Economic Security, serves about 38,000 children a month. Families pay a co-payment of up to $10 a week per child. The weekly cost for a child in full-time care ranges from $80 to $150 a week, depending on the age of the child and whether they are in a home or child care center. The cost per child in the program is about $290 a month.
Families who qualify earn up to 165 percent of the poverty level — or about $25,000 for a family of three. The House proposal would reduce the qualifying amount to 145 percent of the poverty level, or $22,000 a year, eliminating 2,400 children and saving an estimated $6.8 million during the fiscal year that begins July 1.
A graduated payment schedule, in which a family’s subsidy would go down by 20 percent every six months, would apply to about 19,000 children during two years and save the state an estimated $1 million each month.
Pat Federico of Mesa started receiving the subsidy when she took custody of six grandchildren nearly three years ago. Federico, 61, could lose child care if the two-year limit is imposed.
"The child care is a great advantage to me because I can work," she said. "But I’m not going to give up those kids over money. We supported them before we got money and we’ll keep supporting them."
DES director David Berns told legislators this week that cutting the program would further increase the welfare caseload, and at greater expense to the state. While child care subsidies average about $4,000 per family each year, Berns said, taxpayer costs for a family on welfare, state health care and food stamps totals $17,000 a year.
House Majority Leader Eddie Farnsworth and Appropriations chairman Rep. Russell Pearce, both Mesa Republicans, have characterized the plan as child care reform, but Gullett and other legislators disagree.
"It simply makes it available to fewer people," she said. "That’s not much of a reform. That’s a cut."
What it means
The plan: The House Republican proposal on child care would:
• Eliminate subsidies to 2,600 children for a savings of $6.8 million.
• Impose a graduated schedule after the first nine months, reducing the subsidy by 20 percent every six months.
• Two-year limit per child.
• Five-year limit per family.
• Limit funding to six children. The current limit is 11 children.
• Require co-payments for the fourth through sixth child. Families currently pay for the first three.