Subsidized childcare for low-income families is supported in full or in part on a sliding scale basis by federal and state taxpayer dollars. In San Diego County, subsidized childcare and child development programs include state funded preschools, CalWORKS, Head Start programs, and a network of other alternative payment programs.
Federally funded Head Start programs help preschool children from poor homes meet their social, health, nutritional and psychological development needs. However, recently the House of Representatives has proposed federal budget cuts to Head Start which will result in nearly 17,000 California children being dropped from the programs.
California’s legislature is also contemplating heavy funding cuts of 35 percent, or $760 million, from childcare and child development budgets. These cuts will target infant-toddler programs and preschool and after-school programs for children ages 0-12 years.
Unfortunately, these childcare funding cuts are short-sighted and could put more marginal families and children at risk and cost us more in the end.
CalWORKS childcare is a crucial component of the federally mandated Welfare-To-Work program. Since 1997, over 400,000 have graduated from the program. Stage 1 childcare is administered through local county welfare departments. Stages 2 and 3 are administered by the California Department of Education. There are imposed time limits on Stages 1 and 2 childcare. A family moves into Stage 3 when they have “timed out” on the first two stages and for as long as the family remains otherwise low-income qualified for childcare programs.
Subsidized childcare allows a parent to work, look for a job, or attend a work-training program or school with a defined graduation plan. Self-sufficiency is the goal – to lift families out of poverty, and off of the welfare rolls and into taxpaying jobs
Consider what it could mean to a single mother if her subsidized childcare is eliminated. With childcare she can work and make a productive contribution. However, without childcare her options are bleak. One option is to quit her job; another is to leave her children home alone or with someone not properly trained and licensed.
These last two options could leave the children at risk. Underground childcare is a breeding ground for poverty and child neglect. In fact, the greatest increase in foster care over the past 5-years has been for children who are still infants and toddlers.
Early childhood education programs also provide school readiness and save government dollars which would need to be spent on K-12 education, child welfare, and even the criminal justice system.
Subsidized child care provides a socio-economic return on investment by helping to break the cycle of poverty and giving poor families a helping hand-UP – not a hand-out. A 2009 Cornell study reports that every $1 invested in childcare yields a direct return of $3.50.
Certainly, there will always be those individuals who know how to “game” the state welfare system and those who want to cut funding for programs that help the poor will rely on this fact. But the socio-economic value to the many thousands of children who receive subsidized childcare and early childhood education each year far outweighs the few bad apples.
It is easier for elected officials to cut programs that benefit poor children since children cannot vote. However, in making tough budget decisions, elected officials should also examine other wasteful spending before gutting critical safety-net programs like childcare.
For example, the Defense Department paid $285 billion to about 100 contractors who defrauded taxpayers between 2007 and 2009.
In January, the federal government reported that it recaptured $4 billion from pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, doctors, nursing homes and others who overcharged federal health-care programs last year. These were not the “poor” gaming the system.
Our elected officials should carefully consider the benefits of subsidized childcare programs and not derail nearly 70-years of progress in building a system of high quality childcare, early education and early intervention.