Sen. Carolyn Allen: Will Humble went to the board of the First Things First state agency on Oct. 27 for funding that could help to mitigate proposed increases in licensing and inspection fees for child-care agencies.
Will Humble went to the board of the First Things First state agency on Oct. 27 for funding that could help to mitigate proposed increases in licensing and inspection fees for child-care agencies.
Humble, as interim director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, was on the formal agenda and presented three options for assistance: grants, scholarships or incentive programs; a system of loans to be repaid by centers unable to pay for licensing costs; or other funding on a statewide level.
The board denied his request.
I am greatly saddened that they have been watching this situation unfolding and haven’t offered to help. We’re talking about $2 million. If they have that kind of money and are still willing to sit on their hands and say this is not their role, then what is their role?
This agency was supposed to be all about children and giving them access to “high-quality early care” in a system that is “coordinated, integrated and comprehensive.” Their denial at this point to even acknowledge how relevant they are in this situation could start a very dangerous domino effect where they absolutely and completely fail the very people — the children — they are here to help.
The state Senate held health committee hearings earlier this year to examine the status of the First Things First program and its financial situation. Since its inception, a total of 31 councils have been created throughout the state, authorizing the hiring of more than 140 employees to train individuals on the appropriate standards of child-care delivery. This is now a state agency that has full benefits of the state retirement system and health insurance.
So, not only do they refuse to help in a time of crisis, the state is bound and obligated to fulfill the human resource needs of this burgeoning bureaucracy. In fact, their mission directs staff to promote our other state-funded programs within the Department of Economic Security, Department of Education and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
What was troubling to me was the projection that First Things First made during our hearing that anticipated revenues would fall short by 2020. They have amassed hundreds of millions of dollars in anticipation of a decline in tobacco tax revenue.
Perhaps the 80-cent additional tax on tobacco has curbed consumer appetites, and this program, along with other health and welfare programs that are reliant on these revenues, will not be able to fulfill its obligations in the long run.
Defenders of First Things First will say the law prohibits them from sharing revenues.
They built in a prohibition of using their revenues for other programs that do the very thing they have charged themselves to endeavor. So now, when the state is completely in the red, and they have tapped into our system of funding, they have tied their own hands to help out.
Perhaps the voters should give them the flexibility they need to partner with state programs that work in conjunction with their core missions.
Is this what our citizens believed they were supporting with their votes? Again, I am disappointed over the shortsightedness of this organization.
We have families in need today. We have child-care operators wondering how they are going to meet their licensing obligations tomorrow. And, finally, we do know who will come seeking the aid of the state some time off in the distant future. Really, First Things First?
Sen. Carolyn Allen, R-Scottsdale, chairs the Senate Committee on Healthcare and Medical Reform. First Things First is the state board created when Arizona voters passed Proposition 203 in 2006 to fund programs for early childhood development and health care. Relying on an 80-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes, First Things First has accumulated an estimated $357 million since the law went into effect.