If you weren’t already aware, Governor Schwarzenegger item-line vetoed funding for the 3rd stage of the CalWORKS childcare program on Friday October 8th 2010. Stage 3 childcare, under this program, was designed to subsidize childcare for working parents who had transitioned off of welfare. Taking effect on November 1st, this gives working families only 2 weeks to find other arrangements for their children. For many, this is a devastating blow. Many of these families who had successfully left the welfare program are now being forced to consider welfare once again. Daycare providers are scrambling to fill spots that will be left vacant by the children who must now leave their care. Some of them will be shutting down, no longer able to afford to operate without the income that is being stripped from their business. Others will be reducing their staff to compensate for the lost wages. State workers are losing their jobs because much of their caseload is being denied this one benefit.
The system has failed them. The welfare system has now become a never-ending circle, as there is no help for families who are able to leave the system if they have young children who require daycare. At $600 a child (and more), there is no way for a low-income family to graduate to supporting themselves.
On the other hand, the CalWORKS childcare program is not without its flaws. A percentage of recipients are having family members, even their own boyfriend or girlfriend, watch their children for free or at reduced rates, pocketing the money that is meant for the bill. They are allowing the government to still pay 100% of their portion, not contributing their share of the balance one bit. Some families make too much to receive these benefits, but lie about their wages so they won’t be kicked out of the program. And there are families who are not even trying to leave the program. In essence they are being held back by a system that will pay the bill for years, and they end up depending on that help rather than finding a way to get out of it themselves. (For more on California’s case against fraud, read the report by the state Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes).
Here is a synopsis of what people are saying regarding this recent line-item veto (from my previous blog on the subject):
“My rent alone is $1500 per month. Utilities, food, health insurance, gas, and all the other miscellaneous things that I encounter each month all add up to well over what I bring in. Add $2000 a month in child care expenses and well then basically I am just working to pay for childcare.” Momy of 6
“How long must every(one) pay for people to be on assistance? Welfare should be short term assistance. California has 12 % of the US population but one third of welfare recipients. There is something wrong with this picture.” Mike
“I have a son at UC Berkeley and a daughter graduating this year. How will I be able to fill these openings now and continue to pay for college tuition?” Julie V, licensed daycare provider for 18 years.
“I know there are some people who abuse the system, however, for individuals like myself who have went to school who are trying to better themselves and families, it’s very discouraging and makes me want to move out of California. You take two steps forward and get kicked back 5” Leila and Lola’s mommy
“I already gave my 2wk notice (at) my babysitter because I cannot afford it. So I may be in the welfare office Nov 1st to apply for aid.” Maria
“While I am sympathetic to those families who are truly using the assistance as intended, are you aware that over 50% of the families in Stage 3 are having their children watched by license exempt providers – meaning they are being watched by grandparents/aunts/uncles/neighbors/boyfriends and they can continue to receive this assistance indefinitely as long as the child/family continues to meet eligibility requirements.” Serendipity
“So governor, should I quit what I have worked so hard for and return to welfare to reap the benefits that are not deserved by self-sustainable/single parents?” Renaea
My personal take? 2 weeks is not a long enough time for families and workers to adapt to these changes. It is putting California in a tailspin that will leave us in a much worse predicament than we already are. And I do not believe in taking the program away. These are people that have successfully transitioned off of welfare. This is the final step towards total independence. This is much like saying “Congratulations for getting off welfare!” then pushing them off the cliff. There needs to be a safety net so that they can gradually get back on their feet. Sure, stricter time limits would be a better idea than allowing children to just stay on the program until they are 12. Give them at least two years of subsidized care instead of pushing them out of the system and pretty much promising they’ll be back through the welfare revolving door.
As for fraud, right now there is a fight about who should pay for research for fraud cases – no one wants to foot the bill. This results in a system that looks the other way regarding those who are cheating the system. California needs to absorb the cost of investigating all cases to ensure that this money is going towards families that are utilizing the program for what it is meant for. If a family is cheating the system by quoting a daycare cost or situation that is false, there should be consequences. Yes, it will cost money and lots of time to employ workers for this reason. But in the long run, it will save California a lot of money, and it will allow families who deserve this help to receive it.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg has made it his own mission to fight this budget cut, among other cuts made that will hurt instead of help. He will be asking Schwarzenegger to reverse nearly $470 million in cuts that he made October 8th, including the $256 million he stripped from the childcare program. Unfortunately it looks like any reversals will not be able to take place until January when the next governor takes office. Even if Steinberg manages to put Stage 3 back on the budget, this still means that many families will be without this help for 2 months.
If this is affecting you, visit http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/yourleg.html and type in your zip code. Send a letter to every single address that comes up, stating why this should be overturned. Share what is happening in your life as a result. And don’t forget to include a letter to the governor:
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814